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Fall 2017 | Volume 40, no. 1 i


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We would like to thank Ron Kuka for his continued time, patience, and support. Funding for this issue was provided by the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Creative Writing Fund through the UW Foundation. The Madison Review is published semiannually. Two-year subscriptions available for $15 (2 print issues, 2 online issues). One-year subscriptions available for $8 (1 print issue, 1 online issue). Email madisonrevw@gmail.com www.themadisonrevw.com The Madison Review accepts unsolicited fiction and poetry. Please visit our website to submit and for submission guidelines. The Madison Review is indexed in The American Humanities Index. Copyright Š 2017 by The Madison Review the madison review University of Wisconsin Department of English 6193 Helen C. White Hall 600 N. Park Street Madison, WI 53706

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POETRY

FICTION

Editors Kiyoko Reidy Drew Quiriconi

Editors Louise Lyall Frances Smith

Staff Ryan Maguire Tori Paige Sarah Shaw Justin Sparapani Tori Tiso Wyatt Warnecke

Staff Susan Back Audrey Bachman Molly Biskupic Emma Cholip Chloe Christaansen Emma Crowley Tyler Dallma Marina Donhauser Aaron Durlauf Max Harms Katie Mamrosh Grace Miller Juliette Schefelker Elise Weinberg

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Editor’s Note Dear Reader, The Madison Review is thrilled to bring you our Fall 2017 issue! We here at The Review have been working diligently to compile an impressive array of work spanning a diverse range of style, subject matter, and perspective. The Fall edition includes the winner of the Young Author’s of Promise Award, an annual contest run by The Review that publishes the incredible work of one high schooler in the Dane County area. We hope that these short stories and poems published in this edition provide insight into one’s own life, spark worthwhile conversations, and ultimately enrich the lives of those who read this collection of compelling literary work. The work we receive has continually impressed us. No literary journal can exist without the work of its submitters, and we cannot fully express how honored we are to be trusted with someone’s poetry, short fiction, or art and to dissect it in such a way that fills us with intrigue and excitement. This issue would also not be possible were it not for our awesome team of undergraduate students who balance reading, discussing, curating, and designing The Review on top of their already-busy lives. Lastly, we would be nowhere without you, dear reader. If you’ve picked up a copy of this book, we thank you for even opening the page out of curiosity, and hope that you continue reading. Our readership pushes us to compile the best issue possible, and we’re proud that you’re part of our community. The Madison Review would also like to thank our program advisor, Ron Kuka, for his constant encouragement, advice, and help. We would also like to thank the UW-Madison English Department and the Program in Creative Writing for their support. Happy Reading, The Madison Review Editors iv


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Table of Contents Fiction Ben Spies | Exit Here Alain Douglas Park | Life in the Snow Steven Wineman | Funeral Etiquette Alice Hatcher | Through the Cracks, Into the Sky Ann S. Epstein | Golo’s Transport

4 26 47 64 80

Poetry Kimberly Kruge | Nursery Aza Pace | Morning Poem Cindy King | Agnostic Front Katherine Gaffney | A Poem About Cauliflower Beverly Burch | Lilith Francis Alix | Empty Chair Kimberly Nunes | Remaining Separate from What One Loves Deeply

2 24 25 48 62 78 94

Artwork Roger Camp

Front cover, 20, 77

Interview with Louis V. Clark III (Two Shoes) Contributor Biographies

96 100

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Nursery

Kimberly Kruge Their game goes: we will play now in the forest, while the wolf is gone, for if the wolf emerges, he will eat us all. Wolf, are you there? The wolf is busy taking his bath. Their attention narrows to something new. They become the cautious forms of their paintings, pursue the planned symmetry of wings: paper Monarchs. They dry them in the sun. Wolf ? The wolf is just now putting on his clothes. A child smears blood all over his own face. His friend has hit him for something he’d said. Another circles the others, again and again, indignant. Now, wolf ?

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The wolf is combing his hair. Right there among the drying paintings, indignant pulls the velvet-soft wings off the torso of a lost Monarch that had flown into the enclosure. Wolf, do you hear us? But the wolf is brushing his teeth. The world outside the schoolyard is changing its geometry. The Monarch masses migrate through it to the forests of Michoacån, where there are no proven laws. I’m coming for you, the wolf warns. But when he emerges, he is just another child.

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Exit Here Ben Spies

On the radio someone plays a cheap synthesizer, without accompaniment. It is set to sound like an accordion; the spare, lonely drawls of its electronic bellows sweep along like newspapers on the breeze. The transmission gets fuzzy and is almost lost across the muggy miles of Arkansas sky. I know that it is a signal flare, a message sent blindly from one heart in the dead of night and received the same way. I hear you. I’m falling asleep and the music cascades, following no meter at all, until I can no longer hear it even though I know it is still there, like feeling the warmth of a bed but not the sheets that make it. A voice speaks about the piece and my eyes open. I see cold, white light from the trucklot lamps, feel the leaf of sweat between the sleeping bag and my skin and the sting of mosquito bites I have scratched into open sores. I turn off the battery and stuff the keys into a pair of jeans crumpled on the floor the passenger side, where most of my clothes have been accumulating. I catch a glimpse of myself in the rear view mirror and realize that, yet again, I have forgotten to wash off my work makeup before bed. Settling back into the seat, I hear once again the sound of diesel engines rumbling in idle and the vulgar speech of truckers on the lot. I fish my pocketknife out from my work slacks and hold it to my chest, and stare up into the light through the rear window of my hatchback. Joshua loans me the key to the shower stalls so I can get in before dawn, when the drivers wake up and form a line. His overnight shifts have become my washing schedule, since the other security guys are such pricks about it. I spend an hour or two chatting with him at the desk some nights, and others I just comp him a cheeseburger. He’s cool. Then there’s Cheryl, who works with me at the Iron Skillet. Her husband drops her off twenty minutes early on his way to the plant this morning. She smokes three Pall Malls in that time, smacking a piece of cinnamon gum all the while. “Don’t get married, Shan,” she says to me. “Not planning on it,” I say. “You been asked?” “Never.” “You’re young yet.” Cheryl only talks about three things in the raw dawn before our shifts together: how young I am, how pretty I am, just like she was (I don’t 4


the madison review buy it about either of us), and how I ought to do things differently than she did. She stubs her cigarette out on the brick wall and straightens her name tag. “C’mon,” she says, “let’s go put the shackles on.” Morning at the Skillet passes without incident. Wednesdays are usually slow. This is the day the truck lines hand out assignments for weekend deliveries, so many aren’t on the road yet. Cheryl insists that I’m pale and must not be feeling well, so she takes care of the pie and coffee crowd while I lean over the counter. Bright beams of morning light stream in through the eastern windows. Particles of dust swirl wildly through them with every little disturbance: the laughter of the obese man at table six, his kids chewing bacon and waffles with open mouths. A very old man with wine-colored splotches on his skin stares at me from table two. A plastic breathing hose feeds into his nostrils. His eyes are glassy and bright blue, and his hands are folded. I find a rag and begin wiping the counter because his stare is making me nervous. When I move to the far end, his eyes stay fixed on the specials board behind where I was standing. I get off at one, but since I promised to cover a dinner shift this only leads me with a few hours. I drive into town, read some magazines and a chapter of a book on classic car restoration at the library, buy a Slurpee, work, and sleep. Night shift again on Thursday. Naturally I have time to kill before it starts, so I hang out with Joshua at the security desk. We watch a CCTV feed of hookers on the lot, stamping out their smokes with platform sandals. A guy in creased jeans talks to one of them and she follows him back to his rig. “Management doesn’t have a problem with this?” I ask. “Pick your battles,” Joshua tells me. “If the girls can’t work here, they’ll just go to the Pilot at exit one twenty-seven. And so will the drivers.” He shakes me out a handful of almonds from his bag. “My muffler’s making a funny noise,” he says. “I took a look under there. One of the pipes is getting corroded, but I can’t take it in before next paycheck.” “You can fix that with a coffee can,” I tell him. “A metal one. Cut it lengthwise and wrap it around where the holes are, and get some heavy duty clamps to hold it in place. It’s a shoddy fix, but it’ll buy you some time.” He grins. “Come back any time you need a shower.” Joshua found me asleep in the Ford on a sweep of the lot a few 5


the madison review months ago. He didn’t tell the boss or the plaza board or Cheryl, or insist I come crash on his and his wife’s couch for a while. He just tapped on the window with the butt of his MagLite and asked if I wanted a bottle of water. “Where’s your guy tonight?” he asks. “I don’t have a guy.” “Fair enough.” He chews. “I don’t know,” I say. “He just texts me when he’s in town.” Jeff does text me, hours later. At exit 112. You around? “How were tips tonight?” he says. “Shitty.” “You need money?” “I don’t want your money, Jeff.” He’s a New Englander. He speaks quickly, slopping his words together like he’s shoveling garbage out of his head. The cab of his Mack is clean. The folding bed was turned down with a goosefeather comforter, and a new sandalwood air freshener hangs from a light fixture. I know he did this shit for me, and it makes me want to puke. Jeff fetches a pair of basketball shorts from a drawer beneath the bed and stands up to put them on. He buttons up the shirt he’s been driving in all day and lays back down next to me. I can tell he just shaved. He smells like the cheap soap from the bathroom dispensers. “Well I’m glad you could meet me,” he says. “It’s been a while.” I pull my jeans back on. “Jesus, you’re not going to sleep in those, are you?” he says. “It’s ninety degrees out. Here, you want a pair of my shorts?” “No,” I say, flatly enough that he doesn’t ask again. I stare at the ceiling of the cab. Jeff slides an arm beneath me, around my waist. The sweat melts our flesh together. “Fourteen-hour drive today,” he sighs. “Straight through?” “Had to,” he says. “If I don’t make my checkpoints, I’m in deep shit.” “Can’t you just tell them you did?” “They track me with GPS,” he says. “You seen that little white dome on top of my truck? The company knows where I’m at every step of the way. Make unauthorized stops, I’m fired. Tamper with the dome, I’m fired.” He closes his eyes and I feel his body relax, muscles unbinding like fraying rope. “What do you do that whole time?” I ask. 6


the madison review “I just think,” he says. “I think about people in my life. I don’t know. I think about you a lot, Shannon.” The air brakes hiss on another truck. “I like to know you’re there, at the end of the road,” he says. “Where you headed next?” “Straight through to Nacgodoches tomorrow, then I pick up a load of printed material in Shreveport on my way back east.” “You going home after that?” “All the way home. One week off.” “You like New Hampshire?” He shrugs. “It’s nice in summer.” I turn off the interior light and slender fingers of moonlight shine in through gaps in the wraparound curtain. Jeff’s touch is beginning to repulse me as the months go on, but as I fall asleep he becomes just a body next to my own, and that feels okay, I guess. On the dashboard is a picture of his wife and toddler. Katy is a beautiful woman in dark sunglasses, smiling behind a kiddy pool where little Tyler splashes. The Skillet is busy today. I’ve got a table of college kids on a road trip to Austin, a couple of mechanics getting breakfast before work, and some kind of old folks’ weekly conversation club. Cheryl counts a stack of tips while I roll silverware between orders. The new girl, Paige, is working the counter. She replaced Becky, who quit to take care of her little grandson while her daughter finishes her GED. “You know that guy Jeff, comes through here about twice a month?” Cheryl asks me. “Skinny guy, green eyes, early thirties?” “He drive a rig?” I ask. “Yeah, from out east.” “I know who he is.” “Saw his rig this morning. He asks about you every time he comes in here,” she says. She looks only at the money, flipping through the bills and mouthing the count silently in between sentences. Someone punches Merle Haggard into the jukebox, and for half a second I am six years old, dangling my legs off a barstool in some honkytonk while my mother flirts. “Yeah,” I say, “I think I comped him an omelette once.” “Hmm,” Cheryl says. “Wears a wedding ring.” “And?” “And nothing, sweetie.” She smiles. “We’re just having girl talk.” Paige drops a plate of steak and eggs. Grease splatters onto the cuff of a guy’s work pants, but before he can raise a fit I tell him we’ll comp his home fries, and that shuts him up. Then I help Paige clean. I 7


the madison review tell her it’s just the first day jitters and the same thing happened to me when I started, but that’s actually all bullshit. Paige is tall and pretty, with a tan and cloudy brown eyes. He hair is stick-straight. Even in a ponytail, I can tell she flat-irons it. I suspect she’s the type of girl I avoided in high school. “Well,” she says, wiping up the last of the egg yolk. “I guess I should have said ‘oops’.” I laugh, for the first time all day. Paige and I have a drink after our shift. In plaza parlance, this means popping a squat on the shipping pallets behind the Petro station with a bottle of Wild Turkey. Paige is no greenhorn with that bottle. “Where you from?” she says. “Maumelle.” “You commute here from all that way?” “Used to. I stay around here now.” “Where’s that?” “Around here.” She swallows hard, showing teeth, and passes me the bottle. The lot backs up to a soybean field, which goes all the way back to a patch of forest whose colors have become muted in the hazy distance. It’s four o’clock and we’re half drunk. The sunlight has started to lean a little bit, like the sky, too, has gotten dopey in the heat. A tractor putters across the field and the man riding it waves to us. We don’t wave back. “See that truck?” Paige nods to a brown pickup caked with mud, parked against a stack of tires. The mirror on the driver’s side is cracked, but usable. “Yep,” I say. She brushes the hair from her eyes. “Won it in a bet.” “Bullshit.” “It’s true,” she says, and takes the bottle for another pull. “High school boyfriend. Bet me fifty bucks I couldn’t shoot a bowling pin at thirty yards with his dad’s forty-five. So I bet him against my mother’s watch.” She jangles a junky gold watch on the hand with the bottle. “And he said, ‘Fuck it, let’s make this interesting,’ and threw in the truck.” “And he actually gave it to you?” “He didn’t want to. But when his dad found out about the bet, he said, ‘You pay that young woman the debt you owe her.’ So they signed the title over to me that day.” “Wow,” I say. “What’d that do you your relationship?” Paige snorts, covering her mouth to keep from spitting whiskey. “Are you kidding? I’m happier with the truck.” She invites me to a party with some people from the community 8


the madison review college she goes to. Hours later, I am in a half-finished basement with Christmas lights on the walls and twenty people I don’t know. Dubstep throbs through a subwoofer on the floor, and someone is smoking the worst weed I have ever smelled. I take a seat at a “bar” made out of raw plywood and laminate countertop. The guy behind it grins at me and pours rum into a Solo cup. I take the cup from him and pretend to text somebody when he starts talking to me, and he leaves to find some other girl. I end up reading through a list of texts I’ve gotten from Jeff. June 12th. Miss you, Shan. June 18th. Be there 45 min. June 21st. A picture of a prairie sunset in Kansas. Wish you were here. June 30th. Be @ Petro 30 min I’ve got wine. July 1st. You ok? You didn’t say much last night... I open up a window to text him. “You bored?” And here’s this untidy guy with bright eyes and a pack of smokes in his back pocket. He’s young, but with hard lines around his eyes and lips that appear when he smiles. He leans against the bar like I’m the one intruding on space. “I’m not bored,” I say. “Just rude.” “I’m self-centered and spiteful,” he says. “Cheers.” He’s got a couple days’ growth of beard, just enough to tickle your fingertips when you touch it. “Well, I also don’t make friends well,” I say. He grins. Maybe he’s run out of lines already. He wears dull blue jeans and an old pair of canvas sneakers. He might be younger than me. The sliver of a tattoo peaks out from under his shirt sleeve. I ask what it is and he looks embarrassed, looking quickly over his shoulder before lifting it. “It’s an eagle,” I say. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s an eagle.” The bird screeches at the viewer with wings wide and talons in the air. It looks pissed. “Pretty hick-ass tattoo, dude,” I tell him. “If I could scrub it away, I would.” “I’ll drink to that.” Paige sees us together and beams, dropping a guy in a Fox Racing t-shirt who has been latching on to her all night. “Shannon, this is Cole.” 9


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“Hello, Paige.” He turns to me. “Nice to meet you, Shannon.” I expect he’s the kind of guy to extend a handshake, but he doesn’t. “You too, Cole.” “I’m going to have a cigarette. Care to join?” “In a minute.” Paige leans in to me as soon as he leaves. “That’s him,” she says. “That’s who?” “Ex with the truck.” My eyes must be like headlights because Paige puts a finger on my lips and laughs. “It’s cool. You should go talk to him.” The guy in the Fox shirt leans against a wall and slides down to a drunken seat on the carpet. He might be asleep. “Don’t worry about me,” Paige tells me, nodding to the guy. “I can still get my pick of men in this town.” Cole is leaning against a wooden beam outside. The house is built into a hill, leaving space for a small patio off the basement on the low side. He offers me a smoke. “I don’t touch those things,” I say. “I came out here for the fresh air.” He exhales over the back of his shoulder, as far away from me as he can. We both smile a little bit. Nothing about this situation is new. I’ve met plenty of men at plenty of parties. I’m almost waiting for him to try talking down to me, then I will tell him to fuck off and Paige and I will leave. “So I hear you gambled away your truck,” I say. “Not the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.” “So what’s that?” “Probably get involved with Paige to begin with.” “I just met her myself.” “She’s sweet, usually,” he says, like an old man talking about his niece. I cross my arms even though I’m not cold. “This your folks’ place?” “Yeah,” he says. “Been meaning to find a place of my own, but, well... you know.” “Yeah, I know.” “You live with your folks?” “Sometimes,” I say. “My mom and I don’t get along.” The hill overlooks a little highway town, I’m not sure which one. There’s a scattering of sodium lamps, throbbing red lights on a cell phone tower, and miles of lumpy darkness. Cole and I watch all this like there 10


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is something happening down there, but this is Arkansas. I lean on the other side of the column from him once he stubs out the cigarette. He smells like deodorant, clean but not sterile. “You in school?” he asks. “No,” I say. “I had had enough by the time high school was over.” “I didn’t think high school was so bad. You find the right person or two to hang out with and you can manage.” I point to his jeans with my sneaker. “Nobody made fun of your tight pants?” “Maybe once or twice.” And this uncertain smile finds its way out of him. I smile back, and think about fucking him. Then I go back inside. Paige is asleep on the passenger side of her truck on the ride home, murmuring nonsense every few minutes and looking like she’s in pain. I speed us through rows of pines closing in on the narrow road, watching the yellow dashes on the asphalt, counting some and missing others. The rum is burning a hole in my gut. “You kiss him?” Paige mutters. “No.” “Hmm.” I remember something called “choices day” in sixth grade. Mrs. Beckwith sent the boys in the class away with Coach Newell and passed Oreos out to the girls. Before we could eat them, she asked us how many boys we each had kissed, and took that number of Oreos away from each one. When you kiss a boy you lose some of the sweetness God put inside you, she said. When it’s all gone, what will you have left to share with your husband? Day off the next day and I spend it on Route 67. I pass Cabot and stop to get something to eat in Beebe, and figure this is as good a place as any to spend an afternoon. There’s a run-down gas station with cream colored stucco walls next to a shuttered post office. I buy a tuna sandwich and a bottle of green tea, and sit on the hood of my car. Some kids play with a filthy used tire; their dog picks through a pile of garbage and chews absently. I think about Jeff. Maybe he’s at some other greasy spoon in Kentucky or West Virginia today. I wonder what he sees on the side of the road, who he meets on the lots and what he tells his wife, all of the lives he is living while I get older at exit one twenty-one. I call him. It 11


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rings one and a half times before going to voice mail. It beeps and I have nothing to say, so I lie back down and put my hands behind my head. I think of things I ought to do today but will not: wash my uniforms, buy food, research schools. When my phone wakes me up I am sweating, and the sun has disappeared behind ashen clouds. It’s Paige. “What are you up to?” she says. “I can’t hang out today.” “No, I need you to do me a favor.” She pauses. “Shan?” “I’m waiting to hear the favor.” “I forgot my purse at Cole’s house and I need you to bring it to me at the Skillet.” “Are you shitting me?” I say. I can almost hear her shrug on the other end of the line. “Can’t it wait?” “I don’t have enough gas to get home after my shift, and my wallet’s in there.” “But obviously your phone’s not.” “I never forget my phone.” “You did this on purpose.” “Look, are you going to help me out, or do I have to go beg Cheryl?” I sigh. “Is Cole home today?” “You kidding?” she says. “He doesn’t have no job.” It’s a nice house, I see now in the daylight. Two stories with a bonus room over the garage and a front porch that wraps around past the corner on one side. Not old, but made to look like it is. It’s painted Carolina blue, just darker than a summer sky. White lattice reaches up the siding for a second story window; thick tendrils of creeper chase it slowly skyward. He answers the door in the same thing he wore last night, and there’s that little smirk again. “I suppose I’ve got something of yours,” he says. “You’ve got something of,” I say. “I don’t leave my purse with strange men.” “I wouldn’t have gone through it. Not like I did hers.” “Find anything good?” “Nicotine gum in spades,” he says. “But no pregnancy tests or nothing.” He gets a toothy smile from me and I feel like a dope. Now I’m looking at his eyes, the creases at their corners. A lawnmower is puttering 12


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somewhere. I touch the grain of the wood in his doorframe. “Well, uh,” he says. “Let me get it for you. Come on in.” He holds open the screen door and it slaps closed behind me, then drifts ajar on flimsy hinges. A crossbreeze whirls from the kitchen windows. He disappears upstairs and now I am twelve years old, ditching school in my first boyfriend’s house while his parents are at work, sick with anticipation and panic. “Here you go.” There’s nothing in the damn purse. “Thanks,” I say. Cole leans against the banister. He looks like he wants to say something. I turn the purse upside down. “You know about this?” I ask him. “No, but I’m not surprised.” “And here I was going to share the nicotine gum with you.” He laughs this time and I smile again without knowing it. I am not paying attention. “I got to go to work,” I tell him, and walk out quickly. Halfway across his front yard I stop. He is standing just inside the screen door. “Let’s get a beer tomorrow,” I say. “Okay,” he says. “How about Rockland Tap on one sixty-one? You know it?” “I do. Eight-thirty?” “I’ll be there,” he says. “See you, Shannon.” I text Paige. Yep. Next shift’s a long one. Cheryl’s on the warpath. She’s trying to quit smoking, I guess, which I would never advise for someone like her. “Six hundred dollar TV,” she says. “He must think I can pluck money out of thin air.” “Mmhmm.” I dry off plates that just came out of the dishwasher and stack them on the cooks’ counter. There’s a family beaming at a toddler in a party hat at table nine. I smile with them and I wish I was their server. Then there’s a table of boys who must have gone out mudding on four-wheelers today. They make dirty jokes and spill Mountain Dew all over the place. One of them’s kind of cute. “I know we’ll never make ends meet,” Cheryl says. “I can accept that. But why does it always have to be because of such stupid crap?” “Well,” I tell her, still smiling, “life sucks.” She puts down the order she was about to carry over and leans against the counter. “I’m just tired of making concessions. I’ve been settling my whole life.” She picks up her order again, then stops. “It’s like Jeff.” 13


the madison review I look at her. “You know, the driver that comes in here from out east?” she says. “I bet there’s things in his life he’d like to change but can’t, and so he settles for little things he’s got right now. I’m sure he loves his wife and all, but I’ve seen the way he flirts with you, and...” I slam a plate down on the counter. The restaurant stares at us. The only sound at all is Loretta Lynn’s warbling. “Mind your fucking business, Cheryl,” I whisper. “What’s your mom do?” Cole asks. “Clerk somewhere.” “What’s your dad do?” “What dad?” The music is fucking loud in here. The barflies have lost count of their drinks and are swaying together to Rascal Flatts in the spaces between tables. An obese woman in a black turtleneck and costume jewelry shimmies next to a slouching man in a winter coat. He wears a godhonest smile on his withered face. I empty my glass. “What do you study?” I ask. “Gen eds and some design classes right now,” he says. “Transferring to U of A next year though, for architecture.” “You want to be an architect?” “Nah, I want to be a hot air balloon pilot.” “You know, you think you’re real funny,” I say, and take a sip of his beer. “But you’re not all that funny.” “How about cute?” “Jury’s out.” He’s cute, though. He’s cleaned up a bit. Well, he’s got a buttondown shirt on. Could use a razor. For my part, I’ve still got on my slacks and green polo from the Skillet and I probably smell like hash browns. At least I remembered to take my name tag off. “What do you want to do with your life, Shannon?” he asks. I grind my teeth, but decide to answer anyway. “I don’t know. Really. If I could draw a bigger paycheck waiting tables, I suppose I’d do that forever.” “What if someone paid you for something you enjoy?” “Like drinking whiskey on a stack of shipping pallets?” “Something like that.” We meet eyes for a second, but that’s all. “I like working on cars,” I say. “I don’t get to do it much though. Maybe I’ll go to trade school or something.” “There you go.” Then we say nothing. Cole runs a fingertip around the rim of his 14


the madison review glass, and we watch it together like there is safety in the gesture. I count passes backwards from ten, like yanking pedals off a daisy. Pretty soon we are at zero and nothing has changed. The waitress comes by with more beer and I down half of mine. “You like it here?” he asks. “In this bar?” “In Arkansas.” What could you do about it for me? I think. “I’ve settled.” And again, ten passes around his new glass. The two barflies find a booth beneath a mirrored Coors Light sign and make out, and I start to feel like I don’t want to be here. “I got this idea,” Cole says. He sits up straight in his seat. “It’s going to sound stupid, but bear with me.” “I’m listening,” I say. “So the body is transient, right? It grows and it decays. Little microscopic bits come off you when you sneeze or scrub hard with a towel.” “They do.” “And you’re taking in new bits when you breathe or eat, right? The body metabolizes particles into itself.” I shrug, taking a sip. “Sure.” “So the atoms that constituted your person as a child are not going to be the same ones that make you up today,” he says. He looks like he’s losing his confidence, but he’s got to go on now. “Life is a state of flux, a temporary stop for those atoms on an interstellar journey that lasts forever.” I giggle. Can’t help it. I could slap myself. “No, hear me out,” he says, smiling, putting his beer down and his hand out as if to calm a crowd. “Atoms set into motion at the dawn of time, that become part of nebulas and comets, and then you and me, and then waterfalls and cats and supernovas.” “I get you,” I say. It comes out kind of sly. I don’t mean it to, but I like the way he looks at me right now. “Right?” he says. “For me it’s nice knowing that if I fuck up now and then, it’s no big deal. I’m just a bundle of neurons that’s doing it’s best in the moment.” “Thank you for the lesson in tenth grade ideas, Aristotle,” I say, and he laughs. “But you make me want to go stargazing.” I think the beer’s hitting us. We wear drippy smiles, like kids who got into the cookie jar again because it’s just worth a smack on the ass or two. “Well,” he says, “you want to get out of here after this beer?” But I’m not going to fuck him. “What’d you have in mind?” I say. 15


the madison review “Stargazing,” he says. “There’s this half-built house up the road my brother and I used to go to as kids. There’s no roof. You can lay on your back and watch the sky—shooting stars and shit.” “You want to take me to an abandoned house.” “Uh-huh,” he says. “Look, no bullshit. The bartender knows me. I’ll leave my wallet here so she knows we’re coming back.” “Better not be any bullshit,” I say, pulling my sweater on backwards and then fixing it. “Because I got a fucking gun, too.” “Is that right?” Cole says, and now I’m laughing out loud. “And you better believe I can hit a bowling pin at thirty yards.” “Hilarious,” he says. He shakes his head and hands his wallet to the bartender, a short woman in her fifties who hugs him goodbye. “Can you drive?” he asks me. “I walked here. I don’t have a truck anymore.” The house is encircled by dark pines that yield a dome of starlight, jagged edges ringing the moon. Weather wrap dangles from exposed walls. The second floor is a skeleton of graying lumber. The air is damp and cool here. Cole walks ahead, stepping over half-buried trash and a barbed wire fence that has been trampled into the soil. I watch my feet for nails and fire ant hills. The front door hangs off one hinge like a flower with a broken stem. He waits for me in the doorway and we stand just apart, close enough to feel that galvanism that exists between bodies. I ache to touch him. The first floor is totally dark, except for the squares of moonlight where vandals have ripped out the windows. There’s rotten insulation scattered across the floor, torn away from the walls where they stripped the copper piping. Any value this place had is gone. We comb through the scraps with sneaker toes and iPhone lights, and find no signs of life but the saplings reclaiming the floorboards. He takes me to the second floor and it’s like he said. The sky is open where it shouldn’t be, above a bedroom. I put my phone in my pocket and just look up for a while, at the sky and right through it to the edge of creation, the only wall with nothing behind it. Cole sits indian-style on the floor and I join him. “Didn’t know if it would still be here,” he says. That’s the last thing we say for a long time, and that’s fine. There’s space here for fear, for anxiety, doubt, and resentment, and I have all of those with me but the sky has enough room to swallow them all. Cole pulls his knees to his chest and rocks, toes wiggling in his shoes. “What happened with Paige?” I ask. “She fucked somebody else.” He shrugs. Where there might be shame or grief on his face, there’s just his childlike curiosity, pointed at the stars. “You seem like the kind of guy who lets girls drag him through the mud.” “I got some stains,” he says. 16


the madison review “The body is transient,” I say, and make the sign of the cross over him. “All clean.” Minutes pass, and I decide I don’t care about the fucking stars anymore. I lead him back downstairs and down the gravel path to my car. I put the key into the ignition and almost drive us back to the bar. Then I recline in my seat and turn toward Cole. “You ready to go home yet?” “No.” I climb over into the passenger seat with him. He lies back and I sit up. We’re both trembling. He reaches out and brushes the hair behind my ear. His breath sort of quakes, short sounds in the stillness, like a sheet of ice cracking beneath us. I lay my head on his chest. A minute goes by, maybe two, ten, listening to his heartbeat slow back down. I kiss his chest, and then I look at him and I kiss him. After that I’m not sure when we’re awake and when we’re not. We do make out a little bit. He’s a decent kisser. But when I feel the moist warmth of his body on my cheek, smell the traces of detergent in the fabric of his shirt, I don’t want to move and neither does he. Joshua and I play gin at the security desk. It’s almost three a.m., but I slept till noon after dropping off Cole this morning and besides, I don’t feel like sleeping. This is my favorite time at the plaza. The automatic doors almost startle you, hailing solitary road trippers, meth-heads, rock and roll bands on tour. Highway ghosts, like you are. “He studies architecture,” I say. Joshua raises his eyebrows, as if to acknowledge that I said something. “He seems kind of arty,” I add. “I guess I see it.” “And this one’s not married?” he says. “Eat shit.” I brought my towel and a half-bottle of shampoo. I’m out of soap. My legs don’t quite reach the floor in the swivel chair he pulled up for me, so I twist slowly as we play amid the noise from the video poker machines in the truckers’ lounge. One of the janitors wheels a garbage can full of supplies out of the men’s room, and we nod to him. Joshua is fixated on his cards. “My wife,” he says, clearing his throat, “got a cat.” “...And you don’t like it?” I say. “I didn’t say that.” “Are you allergic?” “I just said she got a cat.” His radio crackles, some new kid making his hourly report to the desk. We ignore it. “I think I’d like having a cat,” I say. “If you weren’t living in a car?” 17


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I discard. Two college girls stumble into the Petro station, laughing. A black denim jacket slips off the sober one’s shoulders. Her pal lost an earring and wears a “Property of Jesus” hat she must have gotten at the last truck stop. They ask for directions and buy some taquitos and coffee, and then scamper back to the car and whatever state they’re headed to on summer break. “What’re you doing, Shannon,” Joshua says. He licks his finger and discards. “What do you mean?” He lowers his hand just enough to look over it. “Tell you what,” I say. “When I want your advice, I’ll ask for it.” I take the shower key and leave the cards on the desk. “Night.” A text from Cole wakes me up the next morning. I roll over in the seat to find my phone, half-blinded by the sun. Had a dream about you last night, it reads. Sexy dream? I text back. Nah we were robbing a bank or somethin. I begged u not to turn me in but u did anyway to make a clean getaway. Just looking out for number 1. Wanna hang out tonight? Mmm... maybe, I text, and then grin like an idiot and fall back asleep. Paige is sitting on the counter. An old man in a Navy cap chews his chicken-fried steak and looks at her sideways every now and then, but she doesn’t seem to mind. Place is dead tonight. Plenty of time to bullshit. She tells me she volunteers as a crisis counselor. She’s picking at a nail, like this is the most natural thing in the world. I think about the kind of person that kind of work takes: candid, ethical, unafraid. I don’t know people like that. I don’t know what I could do to stop some poor kid from downing every pill in her parents’ medicine cabinet if she felt she had to. “What made you want to get into that?” I ask. She shrugs. “Handful of bad experiences, I guess.” “Yeah,” I say. The old man smiles cordially to Paige and pulls a modest tip out of his wallet. When he leaves, Paige and I are the only ones on the restaurant floor. “Let’s close up and run through the truck wash,” she says. “It’s nine thirty and it’s still hot as balls outside.” I smile, lay my head on the counter, and close my eyes. “Nevermind,” she says, just before I hear a customer enter. “No thanks,” a man’s voice says to Paige. “Could I sit at the counter?” 18


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I know this voice. Jeff takes a seat in front of me. His hair is cut short. He wears a new shirt and an uncomfortable smile. “Hi, Shannon.” “I thought you weren’t on the road this week.” “Thought I’d surprise you.” “A regular, huh?” Paige chirps. “I’m still learning all the faces.” She extends a hand. Jeff presses it and waits for her to leave. His head is bent low and he looks at me with flat eyes, like vagrant who won’t beg for charity. “I guess I’ll start with coffee,” he says. Paige takes over the coffee urn I’ve neglected, and I quickly grab a rag and start wiping down the opposite end of the counter. Jeff sips and watches me work. My stomach hurts. “So you drive a rig?” Paige asks him. “Yeah,” he says. I can feel him slide his eyes to me. They are cauterizing me. “Where you headed?” “North,” he tells her after a pause. “Omaha.” “What’s in Omaha?” “Warehouses,” he says. “Just a bunch of warehouses.” I scrub furiously at a stain that is not there. “Well, travel safe,” she says. “You ready to order yet?” “Not yet.” Paige puts away her notepad and hops up on the counter next to me. The cooks take a smoke break and the last song on the jukebox plays itself out. Now the Skillet is full of things that aren’t being said. “What’s up with that guy?” she whispers to me. “He’s fine,” I say. I wring the rag out. The smell of the antiseptic makes me lightheaded and I lean against the counter. Paige dangles her legs like a bored child. “Seen Cole lately?” I pause. “Yeah. The other night.” “How are you two getting on?” “Good. I think.” I look uneasily at both of them. “Do you like him?” “Yeah,” I say. “I like him.” Paige watches Jeff fiddle with his phone at the other end of the serving counter. “You and Cole could be really great together,” she says. “He, uh... we were young when we were dating, you know?” “No,” I say. “I don’t.” “I said some things to him that I can’t take back. It might have worked out differently with him and me if we’d been older, but... well... 19


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20


the madison review we weren’t.” I don’t say anything. “Sorry, this got weird,” she says. “All I’m trying to say is, I don’t know you that well Shannon, but I think you rock and I want you to be happy. And I want Cole to be happy. And maybe you two can do that for each other.” Jeff’s coffee cup bangs crudely into the saucer. “Think I’m going to skip dinner tonight,” he says. He leaves a five for the coffee. I get a text before he could even have made it back to his rig. Tell me there’s not someone else, it says. I’ll talk to you after my shift. He sits in the passenger’s seat with his back against the dash. “Is it s problem that I’m here?” he says. “It’s not a problem,” I tell him. “Actually, no. It is. This is fucked.” I’m sitting on the bed in the back of the cab. I keep my shoes on. A bottle of wine sweats in a bucket of ice he got from the Petro soda fountain. The upholstery has been vacuumed into perfect order. “I wanted to see you,” he says. I lay back on the bed. “I’m not doing this anymore.” “Who’s this guy?” “That’s none of your business.” “I have a right to know,” he says. “What is it he’s giving you that I can’t?” “You can fuck right off,” I hiss, sitting back up. “What is it your wife’s not giving you? Or your fucking son?” The wounds appearing in his face go back years. “I love my wife,” he says. “But I love you, too.” “That’s nice,” I tell him. “I’m going to throw up.” He sits down next to me. “I drove a thousand miles,” he says, “and ignored every part of me that told me this is wrong. And now you mock me.” He leans in and I can feel the heat of his skin. He kisses my neck. I wait. Then he turns my face to his. His eyes are bloodshot and the flesh around them is swelling, pink and tender. Pity and sickness mix into a rotten cocktail in my stomach. “No,” I tell him. “Please,” he whispers. He kisses me delicately, shaking like a sick dog. He cries and slides a hand up the back of my shirt. We lay down together. The body is transient. The body is transient. 21


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He wakes first, kissing my shoulder and leaving a damp streak around my torso where his arm was. I don’t remember what I’m supposed to think at first. There is only the feeling of sweat, the smell of sweat, and the threads of light from the sodium bulbs out on the lot. He says he’s going to try to get a shower in before sunup, then kisses me again and leaves. My hands behind my head, I look up at the ceiling and cry without knowing who I am crying for. When that’s over, I reach under the driver’s seat for the roadside emergency kit. I have just a few minutes. I take out the tire iron and climb up out the window. I stand on its open edge in my sockfeet, holding the exhaust pipe for stability, while an orange glow begins to peek over the windswept lot. You can’t hide behind the plaza doors. It’s a false fortress of glass and fluorescent light. They will see you coming from a mile away. I must look like a dead woman on her feet, because Joshua rises slowly from his chair when the doors open and waits for me to speak like he doesn’t believe I can. “I came to get my purse,” I say. He turns his monitor toward me and presses a key. It plays a ten second loop from one of the CCTV cameras. I climb up the side of Jeff’s cab, draw the tire iron back, and smash the GPS dome on top into a thousand shards of circuits and plastic. The loop continues to play as he speaks. “Give me one reason I shouldn’t report this.” “I don’t have one. Report me if you want to.” “Did the new guy put you up to his?” “Nobody put me up to this.” “The man’s marriage wasn’t enough? You had to take his livelihood too?” “Fuck him.” Joshua sits again, swiveling in his chair. “Can I give you one piece of advice?” he says. “Speaking from experience. Nothing more.” I say nothing. “Can I?” he asks again. “I want to make this clear.” “You may give me a piece of advice.” “What’s done is done with Jeff,” he says. “But this other man, this young man. Are you looking for somebody you think can make you happy? Or are you looking for somebody to bleed because you’re not?” 22


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The automated system announces that shower number seven is now available. I grab my purse from the Skillet and dash out the doors. I leave a message for the boss that I’m taking some time off, and if he doesn’t like it, he can remember that I haven’t missed a shift in six years. It’s sunny and I’ve got the windows open, pine branches wagging in the dust behind me. I’m three hours into Texas before I get a text from Cole. Guess you didn’t want to hang out after all last night?, it says. Fuck off Cole, I text back. Don’t talk to me anymore.

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Morning Poem Aza Pace

Knife prick—a drop of blood wicks up the side of a pear slice, pinking the wet. Half a poem escapes, runs out quick on the backs of red blood cells. Even with finger in mouth— suck iron—I’ve lost that stream. My lover speaks through coffee steam: Last night, were you kneeling, kneeling by the bed and praying? Iron & pear, taste. Church bells rang in the late hour, but I wasn’t kneeling—maybe you saw me composing a poem. I’ve lost a few lines out of body, into pear. Share its sweet grit with me.

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Agnostic Front Cindy King

The duvet is made up of down alternative, my body sweats and shrinks beneath it in the balmy spring air. Your tea is whisky, but you argue it’s tea, continue to pour it from the kettle as proof of your commitment to my commitment to illusion. In my rehearsal of disbelief you are travelling by car and stop to pick up a stranger. It’s storming and I’m awake, lips stretched around a scream. A rumble and flash from behind the curtain, and I am sheep enough now to believe that it’s god.

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Life in the Snow Alain Douglas Park

Kathryn was a twenty-nine-year old former artist and expatriate, a restless creature at one time prone to burning her old work though she hadn’t had to in years. She lived in Switzerland with a well-known clinical psychiatrist ten years her senior—the father of her unborn child and also a kind man she’d recently agreed to marry. They spent their time making thin pancakes on weekends and rearranging the smart furniture of his house, located on a mountain slope in the German-speaking region of the Swiss Alps, a wonderland of frost and sun and smiling people, a playground to Kathryn’s eye of healthy goodness and all that was right and handsome in the world. She’d come to love the penetrating light in the mountains, it filled her, the landscape solid and full at every turn, and yet at that moment in her life what those sights evoked most in Kathryn was not contentment, but rather a desire that her old friends back home should know these things as well. And so she called them soon after her engagement and told them it was gut-hitting beautiful where she was now, using those same words, in fact, for each of them, all six of the college friends she still wanted to talk to, her most cherished sphere of influence. She said they couldn’t ask for a better place to start a new century, a new phase of life. That they should please, please think about coming to her wedding. It was 1999 and the world was about to renew itself. Her voice on the phone was steady, sure of itself—even happy— as she relayed to them all: “It’s perfect, just perfect. I hope you’ll say yes.” And then, before the end of each conversation, she didn’t forget to add it. “Can’t wait to see you.” They just had to believe her. At the Zurich airport she stepped out from the crowd impeccably coifed. Smoky skirt, crisp white top, blond hair curved around her ears. She wondered if they’d even recognize her, hair cropped and not the deep black she used to dye it. Most had never seen her natural hair color and certainly never this put together. None of them had seen this most recent 26


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version of her. This collected Kathryn. And then there was her belly, so huge and round. Sophie was the first to see her. No double take at all, from fifty feet away she ran to Kathryn and hugged her tightly, Sophie’s mass of hair smothering Kathryn’s face, still wild and enveloping. Kathryn was instantly filled again with the particular meaty vanilla which had always been the scent of her friend. When Sophie pulled back she was laughing. “Holy shit,” she said, dropping a hand to Kathryn’s protruding belly. “What the hell is this thing?” “This is seven months,” Kathryn said. “A lot can happen when you disappear for a while.” She stood there as Sophie took her in, holding her belly in both hands like a salad bowl. Kathryn corralled her own hair. “You know, cross an ocean, get engaged, make a baby by accident.” Sophie smiled. “By surprise,” she said, tilting her head at Kathryn. “Sure, surprise,” Kathryn said. “You know what I mean.” Sophie was small and still dressed exactly the same as she did in college, dramatic and mismatched. Knee-high burgundy boots, wrapped clashing scarf, a hornet’s nest of cascading hair. Exactly the same. Kathryn had missed her quirky face. She had a lopsided smile with a big dimple on one side and an eye that was almost lazy, but somehow, even with all this, she was still cute. She looked like a doll with that crooked smile and dimple, almost a kid, and even smaller next to her tall husband Benny who walking up was also exactly as Kathryn remembered. Loud and rowdy. He’ll scare these Swiss, she thought, no doubt. He came up and made a big show of not knowing how to hug her since she was so big around. “Wow. This is one pregnant Kathryn,” he said, his eyes buggy. Still a jokester. “Blow me, sailor,” she said. She had missed him as well. She saw the others then, back beyond the security point getting their luggage, Steph directing Jack how to stack their bags on the cart, and Paola, standing calm beside them with her matching bags, ready to go. She looked as pretty as ever. Kathryn saw her friends and was happy at their arrival, and she tried to wave at them in earnest, tried to keep herself from searching the crowd around them, or at least not look like she was doing it, but her eyes couldn’t rest for long. She was looking for the last of their group. And then she saw him, coming up alone, Tom Pryce, looking wrinkled and tired, with only a shoulder bag to his name. He must have been sleeping on the plane because he was a mess, hair sticking up, groggy. She laughed 27


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at the sight of him. She laughed and smiled wide, let her face carry her thoughts, and she was surprised at how long the smile lingered after she saw him and how difficult it was to suppress. Kisses and hugs passed quickly, too quickly she thought to savor the flush of fresh contact. Save Sophie, the rest seemed dazed. It must’ve been such a shock really to her old friends, seeing her again. She did look different. Good, fit, healthy she could argue, but different. She tried to lift one of Sophie’s bags and got heckled. They were still tight, not a beat missed, picking up right where they left off, even with all the time passed, all the distance, say nothing of the extra little person growing inside her. A decade was a long time to be friends after all. Of course they should come and see her and be with her when she got married. It was going to be such a small wedding anyway and they were the closest thing she had to family. It’d been too long. Her house was two hours away, through the mountains. They would need two cars for the trip, one a rental and then Kathryn’s late model Audi. Wait, a minute, Kathryn owns a car? they joked. A nice one? And it’s still in one piece? We can’t believe it, they said. “I do,” she said, pulling out from the airport. “I swear.” Tom shifted in the backseat. “Well, not yet. Your fiancé still owns it for another week.” She looked at him in the rearview mirror and stared at his eyes and laughed and scrunched her nose. She had forgotten about those eyes, the cool grey, and his squint which she saw had new wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. And she had forgotten too about her fiancé after she saw her friends at the airport, hadn’t even mentioned him since they arrived and neither had they. “Oh, yeah. Markus is gonna die when he meets you all.” Kathryn cracked a window. There was snow over everything. “He can’t get enough stories about us. He’s wrapped everyone up in some American myth.” Sophie turned in her seat. “You tell him everything? I mean, because he’s your fiancé?” “Sure, mostly.” “Even about you?” Kathryn smiled. “Well, not everything, sweetie.” She laughed and looked again in the mirror. During the trip Kathryn pointed out to the friends in her car different sights along the way. She explained why the roofs on the houses were sloped the way they were (the snow), why the hydrants had striped colored poles behind them (the snow), why the roads in places were actually heated (the snow). Her friends were interested but grew more and more silent, returning fewer and fewer responses, sometimes only barely turning their heads to the things she directed them towards, numbly following 28


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her finger to a cable stretched across the road and a bright red gondola slowly ascending in front of them. Eventually they dozed off and with that Kathryn turned on the radio, low with the fade set to the front so she wouldn’t disturb them. She listened to a classical music station, which she was sure they would ridicule her for if awake, so different from what she listened to before, so subdued and calm. But she liked it now. She thought her baby liked it too and she placed a hand on her belly as she deftly steered the mountain roads with the other. She kept an eye on the car behind that held the rest of their group, the solid shape of Jack driving the miniscule rental—normal for here—and big Jack looked like a cartoon behind the wheel, the luggage piled next to him in the front seat. Steph and Paola were probably asleep in the backseat. Sophie was snoring into the passenger window and Kathryn angled the mirror to find Benny and Tom still out. She was about to readjust the mirror back but then she left it, for some time actually, so she could study Tom’s face, try to see what other wrinkles she might have missed. She listened to the music and watched the road and mirror. Thick trees on the cliff-side, large expanses of cut rock on the other, the nestled road was secluded and cozy, like it was her own private corridor of road, like a long room and the car a room within a room; the interiority of it all calmed her. Even so, the moments were wonderful, if few, when the view opened up entirely and the long white valleys would reveal themselves. In those moments she could see far off villages tucked neatly into the mountains, clusters of life she knew nothing about. She didn’t know the names of the towns or even how to get to them if she wanted but they did feel vaguely familiar to her. She would have seen them before on other drives. They passed through her village—what would count as hers if she was the counting type—the houses there tight and set together. Hers was off alone by itself. The sole house at the end of a road, the only stretch of road with no guardrail, with a crest and tight turn, the only turn on these winding roads that made her mind pause. She would see this turn, the steep edge and huge drop off, every time before she saw her own house. And every time her mind would still be on the turn well after she was in view of her home, the image always the same, her car gaining speed, unable to right itself on the invisible ice, tires spinning free, inching towards the edge. Or else simpler, maybe just tumbling, rolling, silent and sheer through the drifts until way down something hard—a tree? a boulder perhaps?—would stop her definitively and for good. Maybe only a spattered streak of black oil through the snow to follow. They pulled up and filed out. As Kathryn looked on her six friends breathed in the crisp air, took in the setting sun, remarked on the majesty and beauty of the mountains, the sky, her new home set in the snow. It’s remarkable, Kathryn. We love it, they said. She smiled, happy they loved it. 29


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The fiancé came out and he was gracious and beautiful as well, blond and rugged and striking. He cheek-kissed the girls, each beaming, and offered firm American-style handshakes to the boys, each stoic. We love him, they said. Kathryn was still happy. The house was big enough. Her friends seemed blown away. It would have everything they could possibly need, set and ready; Markus would have seen to all of it. Everyone put their bags down and claimed a room, Sophie and Benny taking the nursery because of the view and decor, which they said made them want to try for kids of their own again, and Jack and Steph grabbing the more private spare room (they’d been long-distance so long), which left Paola the small office and pull-out to herself. Tom had volunteered the minute they came in to take the soft couch cushions in the open great room. There was so much to catch up on, and she knew it’d been a long trip for them, but she got to work anyway, pulling out food and uncorking bottles, raiding the fridge and pantry and wine racks. In college she’d always worked in restaurants and bars and though she had never been particularly organized about it all, she did take pride in the tables she did get. She had regulars. So for a few minutes it felt like she was right back again in her prime section. She got Markus to work as well, starting up a fire in the large circular fireplace that dominated the middle of the sunken great room. It was getting dark out, and it would be so nice to have one. Later, when they had all settled in around the cracking fire, bellies and glasses filled, shoes off and finding new comfort in the plush, built-in sectionals that surrounded the hearth, everyone finally appeared relaxed to Kathryn. They looked content and she was able to sit down herself next to Markus and take a breather as she rested her body against his. They joked about the end of the century, how it was all going to fall apart afterwards. Lights out, just like that. Y2K. Nothing working anymore. Everyone waiting to see what happens next. Benny wondered out loud if they couldn’t have put it off any longer, the marriage that is. “You know,” he said, turning to Kathryn and Markus. “You lure us over and now we’re going to get stuck out here when the world goes to shit. I don’t know if you noticed, but we’re in the middle of Butt-Fuck-Egypt.” “No, no,” Markus said. “This is Switzerland. It’s all like this.” They laughed and Benny pointed at Markus and nodded. “Him, I like,” he said. Someone asked if there was downhill skiing close by and Kathryn pointed to the large blackened picture windows covering the west wall, the 30


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ones facing the valley, and said, “All around, everywhere, above and below us. It’s a part of life here. It’s very normal.” And then she took a sip of her wine—they’d already told her it was okay to have a glass with food, which, of course, she already knew— and recounted to everyone how she used to night ski drunk as a high schooler in Colorado. She and her friends would hide the peppermint Schnapps in their backpacks and then try the double diamond runs, bruised and numb half way through but grateful to find the lower slopes so they could glide down the rest of the mountain in a lazy haze. They would ditch the empty bottles in the drifts and narrowly miss the trees, her reaction time slow and pleasant from the drink, as were the effects of the snow, both the cold and the way it looked, slowly falling on the soft land in a scattering of spotlights. Tom kicked in. “I remember this story. The birth of the famous backpack.” He crossed the room with a stack of cheese and crackers and sat down near the fire. “I always liked that you carried your drinks around like that.” Then Sophie: “Yeah, and it never dried up. Everyone following you around, party to party. You were very generous.” Tom again: “I know I followed.” He swirled his glass. “For the drinks,” he said. “But anyway, I like the Colorado story.” And finally Markus: “I did not know this of you, this skiing drunk. It was dangerous, no? A teenager?” He looked amused, smiling a little, going with the flow, another American myth, but also concerned in his way. She could tell he was trying to be sporting, but she could also see that he really did need an answer. She leaned in and in a low voice assured him it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. A couple times at most, she said. That was what she said, although she thought, quite a few would be more accurate. And then with Markus looking relieved, she certainly didn’t add the part about lying in the snow after wiping out, wasted drunk with no chance of standing up again on the spinning slope. She’d had to crawl the rest of the course on her hands and knees or slide on her bum, done it many times, totally lost in the snow but at least knowing which way was downhill. Nor did she mention those fumbly high school encounters in the trees between the trails, trying to figure out all those layers of clothing with a boy in the dark, the glistening trees, trying to work through them, zippers and buttons, shirts upon shirts, jackets and sweaters and thermals, until finally some small patch of skin would meet the shock of cold air, exposed belly or breast. Completely enthralling under the clumped snow hanging low on the branches, icicle rivulets down the trunks, an exhilarating sensation made doubly so by the 31


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warm hiss of another’s skin against her own. She couldn’t remember the names of all the boys, barely their faces. “Well, that settles it,” Sophie said. “Tomorrow, we’ll break out the backpack again. I’ve never been cross-country skiing, but I imagine we’ll need something to warm us up, right?” Rights all around. The rest of the evening Kathryn and Markus did most the talking. How they met at a medical conference stateside, he a visiting physician and she, in her words, just looking around. “I actually couldn’t believe she agreed to come here,” he said. “We hadn’t known each other that long. I was surprised.” The friends, of course, were not. It’s a very Kathryn thing to do, they said. Kathryn and Markus then took turns as they pointed to and talked about points beyond the large blackened picture windows. “In the spring there’s a stream,” she said, gesturing. “And just here you can see the clinic. I opened it only two years now,” he added. “Kathryn has been a great help—” “Oh and wait,” Kathryn said, “and there’s a barn, right there actually. But get this, it only looks like a barn—it’s fake. It’s really a camouflaged artillery gun for the military. Isn’t that wild?” There was more she wanted to share, like how if they came back in summer they could watch Markus wrestle in sawdust. Some Swiss folk thing. Quite the sight. Or the cows; they had such a beautiful texture, velvety pale taupe—and they did have the bells, like the postcards. With thick collars around their necks, just like you’d think, though maybe not as large. The huge bells were for show or festivals. Still great though. One of them had even come right up to the glass doors before the snow set in. Right there. Just stood at the door and watched her read a magazine for at least an hour. There was so much. The clinic only took up a couple days a week when she did help out—she was even thinking of starting up her photography again, she wanted to say. But the friends were mostly quiet, nodding to the points and looking at the windows even though from Kathryn’s angle only the faintest outline of mountain was visible, and then only if she squinted. What could be seen was the reflection of the gorgeous great room with its open beam ceiling, roaring fire, and warm natural wood on the walls, cabinets, and floors. And there they were, the reunited friends, reflected and sitting on her couches, on her thick rugs, among her matching linen pillows, and living and breathing again alongside her and Markus and having no prob32


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lem finishing off, by her count, at least seven bottles of wine. She admitted, she liked the scene. It was fun. This is very nice, she thought. I deserve this, all of it. And it was great to see them all again. It was. Her best friend, former roommate, Sophie. She loved her funny face. And Benny sitting with his legs wide, commanding space, knees high. She missed them both so much. And Jack looked like a big Buddha on her white cushions, his buzzed hair receding now just a little. He didn’t talk a lot, never had, although he did seem to take everything in. And he did watch Steph. They were definitely together again, falling right back to where they had been, no problem, to their former roles, as if no time at all had passed. Jack watched and listened even more attentively whenever Steph had something to say, which up until then had been a lot, seated on the floor next to him, a sharp elbow on his thigh. Steph was thin and hard. She looked confident sitting there. There was so much history in the room. Almost too much. Kathryn was still next to Markus when Paola got up for another bottle of wine. She watched Paola walk across the room. She admired Paola’s movements, the way she held herself, her composure, what Kathryn figured was an unattainable Italian grace. She did this even though she had been in the past, was even now to some degree, threatened by Paola’s beauty, her exchange student aura, her hair and her skin, her lush figure. Tom held out his glass and Paola poured the wine for him and Kathryn watched Tom’s face. She heard the chink of bottle to glass and the others fell away. As the night wore on, the conversation slowed, some dangling loosely on the edges, and Kathryn grudgingly gave in to Markus and allowed her guests to retire. Sheets, pillows, and towels were made available, Markus taking obvious pleasure in setting the guests up for the night. Tom was already asleep in the overstuffed chair by the fire. She carefully slipped a half-empty glass from his hand. As the others unzipped their bags, looking for toothbrushes, pills, and slippers, Kathryn walked over and clicked the lock on the sliding glass door, a steady wall of cold seeping through the double pane. Standing there, she could feel her baby moving, little hiccup-like jerks. She placed her hand on top her belly and looked out the window, past the reflected images of her moving friends, towards the points of interest she and Markus had alluded to earlier. She realized then that the angle wouldn’t have made any difference; you couldn’t see anything in the darkness. She had been talking about these things and her friends had all just nodded and looked on, humoring her. There were some distant lights spread out over the valley. Little 33


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shimmers of life that must be something. She saw these. She thought they might be street posts, or door lamps, or maybe even windows, possibly even belonging to the things she had talked about. But she couldn’t say for sure. She set Tom’s glass on the kitchen counter and went to bed, tossing the heavy comforter on the floor and propping several pillows behind her. She needed so many to sleep now. They littered the bed around her as she sat up and waited, listening to the sounds of the house, dishes in the kitchen, a TV coming on too loud and the volume quickly lowered. She heard Markus talking in the hallway, explaining different things to the houseguests as he made his way back to her: where the phone was, the linen closet if they needed anything else, just to help themselves to the food. They had everything anyone could possibly need. She thought about her old waitress jobs again and was glad to be done with that, having to wear a smile all night. She was glad to let Markus take over. He was a very organized man. When he came in he was elated. He was so genuinely happy to now know her friends, to have faces for all the stories. She had told him so much about them all, but just pieces—there was a lot he still didn’t know. Much that was still hers. Even so, the last few hours were probably the most she had revealed of herself at any one given time, and while she was exhausted from it he still wanted to talk. She indulged him even though she eventually moved to her side to lay her head on the pillow while she listened to his good-natured talk, answering his questions as succinctly as she could, her eyelids heavy and falling and staying closed for long periods as she responded. Sophie is the artist? / Yes. And Benny? / History professor, art-history. Good match? / Yes. A long time they are together? / For all I’ve known them. He is funny / Yes, he is. But loyal / Yes. And Jack and Steph have not seen each other in how long? / Years. How many? / Five, six. More, maybe. But now? / You can’t keep that apart. And Paola is by herself ? / Yes. Not with Tom? / No, they are not together. But before? / …Before? I don’t know before; I think maybe, yes? / I don’t know, I’m tired; But you, yes? / It was a long time ago; And you are tired? / …Yes; I am glad to know them / …Me too; I love you / I love you too; 34


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Goodnight / … The next day everyone was up early and eager to get going. Some had cigarettes and mimosas for breakfast, others bread and jam. Markus had rented cross country skis for everyone which they tested out as Markus got his and Kathryn’s from the garage. Kathryn owns skis? they joked. I do, she thought. They asked if she was sure it would be okay for her to go and she said, “Of course, it’s good for me actually, I go all the time, it’s good for the baby. I just have to take it easy.” All went and everything was great. Markus took the lead through the trails and showed them the views which they all agreed were stunning. No ancient Roman aqueducts or small castles on high lakes like she’d seen in other parts, but stunning nonetheless. The expanding soft white, the sheer drops of rock. This was where Markus grew up. He knew the whole mountain intimately. Kathryn was proud. She was glad he was a good host. And she was still so glad to see them all, Sophie and Benny. Even Tom. She could forgive him for breaking her heart when they were both too young. He’d forgiven her. And after all, she was happy now. On the way back they passed a toboggan trail and Markus stopped the group and explained how these trails ran the whole length of the mountain, some rides taking hours to descend. He said the starting point to one of the longer rides was near the house. There was a little hut at the beginning and the village left the sleds out all winter, stacked and ready to go on the honor system. If anyone wanted to try, it was just a short hike from the house down to the hut. This was one of Kathryn’s favorite thoughts. She had the image of herself riding these long toboggan trails with her daughter—(she already knew it was a girl, saw the ultrasound, though she’d kept that detail to herself so far)—them sitting together, her little girl about four or five, nestled between her knees, bundled up and both singing while they gently rode down the mountain on a sled for hours. No decisions to make, no need to react, the turns and twists all laid out by the track. It was a goal for her. They got back to the house, beat and exhausted, and had lunch and discussed what they could do for the afternoon. Kathryn felt a bit sweaty and got up to use the bathroom. She had a dizzy spell and sat for a while on the toilet collecting herself. She’d overdone it. Her insides felt terrible. There was some spotting on the tissue, little streaks of scarlet, but that was normal, or rather it could be. She told the others she felt like taking a nap and skipped the rest 35


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of lunch and went off by herself and fell asleep in her bedroom. When she awoke, it was much later. The sun was setting on the other side of the valley and she lay alert in bed in the dimming light, listening to the sounds coming from the rest of the house. She could hear music. The Velvet Underground. Which just had to be Tom’s choice. She could hear the others talking and laughing in the great room, Benny’s booming voice, Paola’s throaty cackle. She could hear Markus mixed in as well, adding here and there to the conversation. She thought, I am happy they like him. Her old friends. But, she thought, what else did they have really other than the history of their friendship? She wondered how much they might be filling Markus in on as they sat out there in the living room. If they were telling him anything from her past she’d yet to divulge herself. Maybe. But they didn’t know everything. Tom might know more than the others, but he wouldn’t be talking. And even he didn’t really know the whole of it. Even he didn’t know the true number of times she’d woken up foggy on the details. She didn’t even know that. Why keep track? It seemed so unimportant. Like who was with whom and when and how many times? So many questions simply just do not matter. Late at night or early in the morning. Like where did I get these cigarettes, they’re not my brand? (Or) What’s this guy’s name again? (Or) Whose underwear is this now? (Or, better yet. How am I going to explain myself this time?) Or, really, if we’re going to be honest, Kathryn… how in the hell did you ever get this way in the first place? The answers were equally as pointless. Like any of it meant anything now, or even then. All of it was just so unimportant. She got up and straightened her clothes, took some tissue from the nightstand and went to her bedroom mirror and cleaned herself up. She had to pee again. She always had to pee now, her insides pushed around to make room. So tired of her body being a machine. Around the fire it was a repeat of the night before. Kathryn’s stomach felt tight and weird. She was hungry maybe. She came in and went to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine and picked at the hors d’oeuvres on the counter as she looked out to the great room. Tom was talking to everyone, “...all I’m saying is everything’s pretty damn perfect here. Too perfect if you ask me.” His voice was animated. “Didn’t you guys see the airport? Not a stitch out of place. It was like clockwork.” “And that’s bad?” someone said, though Kathryn didn’t catch who over the music. Probably Sophie. “When they’re people, sure,” Tom said. He was sitting on the hearth, his back to the fire, rolling his wineglass between his hands. “I don’t know. It all worked so well. Felt funny is all.” Benny was sitting in the deep couch, his back to Kathryn. “What’s funny 36


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is you complaining about it.” Tom smiled and laughed. “I’m not complaining, just pointing it out.” He was playing with the idea. Kathryn could see he was playing. He opened his hand to Markus. “What do you think, Markus? How do you live here with all this order?” “Oh, stop picking on us Europeans, Tom.” This was Paola. She was sitting on the couch with Benny and she took her long black hair then and threw it over the back of the couch. “And fill me up,” she said, holding out her glass. Tom stepped forward and obliged, looking at Paola while he poured. “I’m not picking,” he said. “I’m curious.” “No, no. It’s okay,” Markus said, straightening himself. “It is true,” he said. “We do like things to be in order.” Markus was with them, part of the group but sitting by himself on the long low ottoman. The others waited for him to continue. He was about to start but Kathryn came over then and he stopped and watched her approach and offered his forearm for her to use as she lowered herself down next to him. She had to use every muscle to get herself to that low seat. She felt like a thousand pounds. He continued, “...yes, and, I think with the German side and the French side we have learned to work together.” “It’s more than that though,” Tom said. “Didn’t you guys see the lady at the airport with the cart and the little packets of chocolate for everybody? Those were free.” “And that’s bad?” Sophie said. It had been her before. She was laying on the deep couch between Benny and Paola, head in Benny’s lap, feet in Paola’s, balancing a wineglass on her chest. She smiled now, her eyes glassy and slow as she mouthed a silent ‘hi honey’ to Kathryn. “Chocolate isn’t bad,” Tom said. “But she had little paper plates if you wanted one, and pretty little napkins, like mini ones, all just the right size. And people were just taking one, just one chocolate, even the kids. That’s what I mean. Too nice. Too perfect. It’s an airport for fugsake.” “Hell, I’ll take perfect over that piddly, shit-stack of an airport they had back in Tucson,” Benny said. “Nothing in that dust bowl worked right.” “Oh god yes, definitely,” Steph added from across the room. “And I’ll take it over LAX any day.” She swung a skinny leg and crossed it at the knee. “It’s way too crowded in LA. I’ll never get used to it. People are the worst.” She went to whisper something in Jack’s ear and he leaned in to receive her. Kathryn remembered Steph then and all the secret dinners she used to have, inviting some but not others. Tom sat down again with his drink, pointing at Steph and nodding. “Actually, LA isn’t too far off,” he said, talking through a piece of cheese. “It sort of reminds me of Disneyland here, designed like that, you know. It’s all so planned. Like an amusement park.” Benny looked over at Markus and Kathryn and said, “It’s just set up, 37


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Tom.” His voice was clear and directed. “They’ve had time. They’re neutral. No wars. And rich. No poverty or heartbreak. They’ve had time to fix everything, to finish things. Hell, look at this house. Time built this house.” He shook his head. “I don’t understand how you can knock something for being clean and finished and good. Wouldn’t you like some time, Tom, to finish a couple things?” Sophie sat up, leaning on her elbow. “Yes, I agree. It’s just finished, Tom.” “What, as a country? The whole place is finished,” Tom said. “Yes, finished,” she said, the words were slow coming out of her doll mouth. “The country is complete.” She nodded curtly, her point made. Her speech seemed to have taken some effort and she swayed a little on the couch before letting her head drop to Benny’s lap. Tom was serious but smiling. “I don’t know. Maybe. I guess I just like a little grit in my life is all... Just a little.” He turned to Kathryn and Markus. “But it’s still very beautiful here. I love it.” Kathryn just then noticed that Tom was wearing prescription glasses. He hadn’t been wearing them before. “When, in dear life, did you get glasses, sweetie?” she said. He reached up and touched them. “Few years ago. I think you were in Texas.” She stared at him, taking in his glasses and face. There was a lull in the talk. Might have been a natural one, the dip in conversation, but Kathryn looked next to her and saw Markus looking down at the rug, pursing his lips, thinking. She couldn’t remember if Texas had come up before. He had always been so open with her, so forthcoming, but she never responded in kind. Not that she hadn’t tried; it was just, where to start? Texas seemed like such a blip in the grand scheme of things. Just another place she used to live. Or maybe it was the “sweetie,” a term she’d slipped into again which she certainly didn’t use in German. Kathryn looked up and caught Sophie staring at her with those glazed eyes. It felt like she was talking to Kathryn with her mouth shut, and there was a small smile on her face, the kind you’d use with someone else. For a second, it looked like another face. She had to pee again. She apologized to everyone and got up and put her glass on the kitchen counter and retreated to the bathroom where she stood for a while at the mirror, feeling her stomach in her throat. But she didn’t throw up. It passed. On the way back she ducked in to the throughway pantry, deciding that maybe she was hungrier than she’d thought. She was looking for something more substantial to eat when Tom appeared at the door with two glasses of wine. “You forgot your drink,” he said. She smiled at him. “I was coming back.” She turned to the shelves and studied the cans and boxes, reading them over and over. He came into the narrow room. “Can I help with something?” He put her glass 38


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on the shelf in front of her and stood with his back to the wall, eyeing the shelves along with her. “No, I’m fine,” she said. “I don’t know what I want. Everything I eat makes me want to vomit.” She picked up a jar of peanut butter, one of the only things she felt like eating anymore and which was hard to come by here. Sophie had been sending her jars by the case. She unscrewed the top and swirled a couple fingers in and put the dollop in her mouth and scraped her fingers clean with her teeth. She went in for another and looked at Tom and muffled to him, “difgusting, I know.” He laughed. “Not at all. It’s good to see the old Kate.” She did her best to swallow the peanut butter. She nodded at him to wait. “Well, you’re seeing a lot of me now.” She went in for some more. “I feel like a Mac truck,” she said, and she thrust out her belly and it touched the shelves across from her. “Look, you couldn’t get by if you wanted.” “You look great.” He reached a finger out and picked at the edge a shelf. “It’s great to see you, Kate.” Her mouth was full of peanut butter again and she was grateful. She softened her face and pointed at him. You too, her finger said. She could hear the music and laughter from the great room. The food stared at her. Tom took a drink and turned to her and put his shoulder to the wall. It was a party stance, the kind where you hold up the wall and lean in a little, a way to show that what was coming was going to be meaningful somehow. “I know it’s a cliché, but…,” he held out a hand in front of him, the palm and fingers the same curve and inclination as her belly. “May I?” Thank God for peanut butter. Kathryn nodded and lowered her head and moved herself slightly in his direction. She doesn’t know what she was expecting. His hand was warm, of course. He placed it on her belly and it generated heat all on its own. And he didn’t move it around, just held it still on her and she didn’t move herself either. The baby wasn’t kicking, but he didn’t say anything about that and neither did she. She just stood there and felt his hand and she wasn’t going to be the one to stop it. She said, “It’s really nice to see everyone again.” His hand radiated. “I know it’s a lot to come over here.” “Not at all,” he said. “It’s nice for us too.” His eyes looked tired. She said, “Okay... you sure, though? I mean, I haven’t had a chance really to talk to anyone, make sure everyone’s fine.” She touched her own face. “I feel like I’m being a bad host.” Tom wrinkled his lips and cocked his head, his don’t-be-silly gesture. 39


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“Well okay, if you’re sure,” she said. But still, she thought. She remembered the look on Sophie’s face from before. Still. “But how’s Sophie?” she asked, looking up. “She seemed pretty toasted in there.” He bobbed his head a little. “Well, you can’t blame her. She’s insanely jealous of you.” His hand had moved when he said this, across her belly a couple of inches closer to her navel. She felt it the way you feel cold water and for a second she almost hadn’t heard him. But then... “Wait—” She shook her head. “What do you mean jealous?” “Well you know. They’ve been trying like hell to have kids. They keep trying and trying. Fertility Doctors, the whole thing. She’s really invested. The whole plane ride here she was really upset.” Kathryn furrowed her brow and let out a breath. “I didn’t know they were trying,” she said quietly. Although she did know this, because Sophie had said as much— in letters, on the phone—a couple times, even, she remembered then— but it had never registered what it truly meant to her friend, the trying. Tom raised his eyes and held her gaze a second. “It’s just Sophie. You know how she is. She wraps everything up together. I wouldn’t worry about it. She’ll get over it.” “Yeah, sure. I’ll just not worry about it now. Thanks for telling me.” “Crap, now I’ve done it.” He sighed and adjusted his glasses. “What I mean is… she’ll get over being mad at you. It’s her deal anyway. She knows it.” “But why would she be mad at me for anything?” “It’s not you. Trust me,” he said. “It’s her deal... She’s being selfish.” Kathryn frowned and waited. Tom squared his shoulders and looked off above her head, picking his words. “She just thinks, since they’ve been trying so much, you know, that it’s her turn. She feels like she’s the one who should be pregnant.” He started moving his hand then, back and forth in a large motion across her belly, rubbing it as if it were a shoulder he was trying to comfort. “It’s just a pity party with her right now. Don’t worry about it.” Kathryn had no idea. They continued to stand there. He kept rubbing her. They both watched her belly and his comforting hand. She suddenly felt very tired. “I’m sorry she’s not kicking,” she said.

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“She?” She sucked in her bottom lip. “Well, I say she, but… I mean, they sleep a lot in there. Sometimes they’re just asleep, so that’s why you can’t feel anything.” He nodded at her. His hand stopped moving. The stillness was a vacuum, obvious and huge, and she longed for the warmth his rubbing had made. She felt it resting on her, motionless. She couldn’t take it anymore and was about to move away, but then, ever so lightly, she felt his resting hand move again. But this time it wasn’t across. Rather, what she felt was the smallest of movements towards her. Standing there, she felt the first pressures of his fingers just starting to grip. Someone was calling his name, shouting from the great room, “Hey Tom. Tommyboy. Come on, grab a bottle already.” He removed his hand, a silhouette where it lifted. “Duty calls,” he said. “Where do you keep—” “I’ll bring it,” she said. “Why don’t you head in... I’ll be right there.” He had to squeeze past her in the pantry to get back to the great room. She did make it tight and she didn’t care. When she was alone again, she felt a surge of energy. A flushed pulse followed by shallow breath. Her muscles tightened thinking of his hand. She felt a little hot, nervous. She didn’t feel right so she waited until she was calm again. Then she looked over to the rack, three bottles left, and just like that she was dizzy again. The doorway was clear and she went over to the wine rack and took a bottle and held it by the neck. She wiped the sweat from her brow, turning the bottle over in her hand. What would it matter in ten years? One day out of thousands. She opened the bottom drawer where they kept the tablecloths and linens and placed the bottle inside. She stacked the other two beside it and put a tablecloth on top and tucked in the edges around the bottles, obscuring them completely. Looking down, you couldn’t even tell there were bottles underneath. She looked at the white cloth and thought about the bottles nestled inside. Then she neatly closed the drawer and returned to the group. Benny stretched back over the couch and looked at her coming in empty handed and raised his hands “Well?” “We’re out,” she said. “Not a drop left.” A chorus of moans. She stood behind the couch and put her

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hands on Benny’s shoulders and scrunched her own and looked over at Markus. “Well babe, what do you think? Can you run into town and get some more?” she asked. Markus was dry himself. He smiled at her. “Well, I think I know my place. We need some things for dinner anyway,” he said, grabbing his coat and jingling his keys. “Maybe others want to see the village?” she asked. Benny, Jack, and Sophie were eager to see the village, so the four of them took off in the car. That left Steph, Paola, and Tom. Steph said she had to call in to the office. “You sure you don’t mind long distance,” she asked Kathryn, cupping the phone, not waiting for an answer. They listened for celebrity names to drop as Steph talked to her assistant, but it was only about which editors to use and which producers to fire. Tom laughed a little through his nose and raised his eyebrows at Kathryn. It made sense that Steph was such a shark but it was still odd to hear it. When she was done, she talked a little about how great a job it was. She’d always hated television before but it was the scope of the projects that she liked, and honestly, she couldn’t imagine doing anything else right now. She was quiet for a moment or two after saying this, staring off across the room. She said then to Paola that she had some pictures she wanted to show her and the two of them retired to the kitchen table. They had been roommates in college and sometimes had their own language. Tom was standing, looking into the flames and Kathryn quietly slipped away to the pantry to retrieve one of the bottles she’d put in the drawer. Her belly still felt tight and weird but she ignored it and opened the bottle in the narrow room, muffling the cork pop with a napkin before bringing it out. It was a quiet thing she was doing. Just a drink, only a glass, a quick one to share while the others were out. No one needed to know, just a quick glass of wine with an old friend, and when she came back Tom was in the same overstuffed chair from the night before, the one near the fire, his feet up on the hearth. She sat down and poured him another and refilled her own drink for her second glass of the night. He looked at the bottle as she set it down on the carpet between them. “How many is that for you?” he asked. “Shut up and drink,” she said. They sat and sipped and were quiet as Steph and Paola carried on about the pictures and she didn’t hear a word of what they were saying. She wanted to have Tom’s knee wander over and touch hers. They sat silent. They sat still. The music stopped and she got up to change the CD. She hit 42


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play and walked over to the glass sliding doors as the music started, her stomach in knots. It was classical music and she’d put it on out of habit. “This is nice,” Tom said. His eyes were closed. She leaned against the doorjamb and looked out the glass door. There were those lights again, distant and lonely across the valley. She still didn’t know what they were exactly, which landmarks they belonged to. She should know. She’d lived there long enough. She felt queasy, maybe too much to drink. Her head was thick. She couldn’t look at the lights, so instead she looked at Tom’s reflection in the glass. The other two were gone, disappeared into another room somewhere and Tom had his eyes closed by the fire. But he wasn’t sleeping. He was smiling and humming to the music. He knew about Texas and all the different places she’d lived. He knew about all the stupid things she’d done. Most of it anyway. What she’d put into her bloodstream, into her body. Who she’d been with, the different things that got her going. He knew how to do them. He had his feet up next to the fire. It looked so nice. She loved the fire. She felt worse. Much worse. Her belly hurt. There was a wave of pain, stinging needles. She’d only eaten a little of the cheese and a couple of olives and then that tiny bit of peanut butter and not much at lunch. She knew she should eat more. She looked again at Tom reclining in the chair. She wished she could curl up on him and have him rub her stomach the way he used to. She wished she could straddle him in the chair and have him rub her thighs and back the way he used to. She felt hot, really hot, overextended, but she didn’t want to sit down. Somehow that would be too much. She knew she wouldn’t be able to get up after. Chairs were traps. No, she would stay where she was and lean against the cool wood of the doorjamb and just concentrate on standing still for a while. That she could do. The pain came again. Sharp. All along her sides. She grimaced and breathed out. This was something. Something was happening and she was glad her back was to the room. The doorjamb pressed against her shoulder and she outstretched her fingers to the glass, reaching to the white snow. She loved it too. She did. She let out a deep breath and the room spun around her. But for Christ’s sake she was still weeks away from being due, two months still to go. Though maybe it was those fake ones, phantom labor. But still, when she had imagined those, when they would come, if they did, she had thought they wouldn’t feel real, that she would be able to tell they were fake. Not like this. And this pain was long and so sharp, deep, like her muscles were being cut. And nauseous. She felt sick too. Maybe that was it. She was just sick. Nothing dramatic. Just sick. Food poison43


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ing. Why didn’t she just eat something already. It was probably nothing but acid in there, eating at her stomach lining. But none of that was right. She knew this pain. It was familiar. She wanted to believe it was her empty stomach, the drink, phantom contractions, that it was coming early, that there was a simple explanation for the hurt. She wanted to believe that it wasn’t happening again. But she recognized this pain. She knew it. Tom had been there the first time. He knew all about it, the only one who did. And even though she’d been nowhere near this far along the first time, he could still help if it was happening again, the way did before. But she stayed quiet. For all his help it still happened. They still lost it. It would do no good. There was no use. She knew what she deserved. She’d been ignoring it all day. Her insides felt like soup. The wave of pain receded and she felt a little better, but also very tired. He was lying right there. She looked at his face and mouth. She looked at his hips and crotch. She moved her hand over her breast and let her fingers touch her nipple. She closed her eyes. She thought of his hand. When she opened her eyes again, she looked back out to the lights in the valley. They were still there, in the same damn spots. A pain stabbed her hard and she winced and grabbed her belly. She started sweating and breathing harder. The lights shimmered in place. The lights blinked at her and Kathryn saw them and she slid open the door and quietly moved outside. The cold air was perfect. She immediately cooled down. She walked a little into the snow. It felt perfect. It wasn’t too cold. The pain was still there, throbbing and getting sharper, but she had felt worse in her life. She’d been through a lot worse. She continued to move into the snow, feeling the cold. She’d been a fool to find out it would have been a girl. That can’t be unlearned. She looked down into the valley again, to the lights closest to her house and wondered which one was the hut for the toboggan trail. She thought of trying to get there, to make the run just once. She could move further away if she wanted, do this by herself, ride the trail while her girl was still with her, because her own life would be forfeit after anyway. Her mind raced forward. She could cross her yard and move down the steep hill, through the deeper and deeper snow. She’d walk calmly around obstacles she knew were hidden under the surface. She knew she could. Quicken her pace, move faster, shuffle on her knees dropping through the drifts. Her house would get far away. It would get smaller. The lights in front of her would get closer. And if Markus’s car were to pull up to the house she would only stop and look back once, and then only long enough to get her bearings again. To steel herself. She’d return to her course and move even faster, stumbling and falling through the snow. She’d slide down the steep mountain and use her hands to help as she scooted along on her ass. She could cover a lot of ground. She could. But then the could was easy, wasn’t it? It’s the should that’s hard. The fucking should. 44


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The pain was intense. She was sweating again, breathing even harder, her whole body twisting in on itself. But she was smiling too and singing softly. She thought it was coming. She thought it was going to happen any second. No time to move in any direction. But she could tell, too, standing there looking out, that her destination wasn’t far from where she was now. She knew where it was; she was sure: “I fucking know where it is, for Christsake.” But what did she know? Maybe there was time to do something. She couldn’t know everything. Time. What a body wants. She conceded this. But she still wasn’t sure which way. In or out. She stood in the light of the door and looked down the hill. The shimmering blackness. Even if she were to move in that direction, off away, further into the snow, she would still hear them behind her, far behind, calling her name in the dark. They would come out of the house and call her name. Their voices would be tiny and far away but her trail through the snow would lead them, all of them, Sophie, Markus, Tom, everyone to where she wanted to go. She would have to claw at the mountain, slide down even faster. She couldn’t let them get to her. She didn’t want them after all. She didn’t want any of them. She only wanted to be with her little girl right now. She only wanted a couple hours, just a couple measly fucking hours, alone with her. Just a couple hours while it happened, she thought, for her and her child so they could start a toboggan run, so they could ride just once and sing and laugh like schoolgirls as they slipped down the mountain together. A couple hours was the only thing she asked for. “Just give it to me. Please. For Christsake, for once, just give me what I want.” In her mind, she finds the trail. She finds the hut and sleds. She sits down. “Fucking give it to me already.” She was ready. In the snow, her back to the house, ready to have her life drop out of her. She was prepared for it. She had prepared herself for it. But, and this was odd, she couldn’t do it. For all her preparing it would not be enough, not now. Somehow, she knew that simply bracing for the selfish worst wasn’t going to be enough anymore—that she had far more to consider now than just herself—that the option of doing nothing and just taking whatever came was no longer an option she could take. Because, after all, what if she was wrong? What if everything was going to be just fine? She came in and walked over to Tom who was still reclining in the chair with his feet up. She stood above him, panting and sweating. She nudged him awake. “Tom, sweetie,” she said. “Get the car.” 45


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A Poem About Cauliflower Katherine Gaffney I think I would get bored if it was about lemons or limes or cartoon mosquitos. The house is an ocean in which the rains fall and I’m reminded of the sound of Florida toads when it pours, talking to each other and maybe to us, unknowing all we hear is the throaty rattle of a smoking baritone. There’s a sad quality to a voice on the phone. Wired and tied down to tell you they love you or to ask for your recipe for Brussels sprouts. We need you. Like a child folding a paper airplane needs to believe that planes don’t only fall and that cauliflowers are flowers and the ocean doesn’t swallow the good and that everyone makes it to an age where they can eat vegetables without cheese and kiss with their tongue.

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Funeral Etiquette Steven Wineman

How to Beg Your Mother Not to Have a Rabbi at the Funeral Here is what you need to understand—logic is useless. So forget about saying things like When was the last time Daddy went to shul? or Remember all the awful things he used to call Rabbi Steiner or Did he ever actually say he wanted a rabbi? or, god forbid, If Rabbi Steiner had the chutzpa to speak the truth of what happened you would be mortified, Ma, but he won’t and instead this can only be an exercise in hypocrisy and how can that possibly not make everything worse? No. Your mother is reeling from the loss of her husband of thirty-nine years. Leave aside your incomprehension that she stayed with him all those years. It is reality. Leave aside your rage at things your father did to you when you were defenseless, when, at the beginning anyway, you still loved him, revered him, when you were little and stupid and believed that you were the joy of his life and he above all others was the guardian of your safety, the bedrock of your place in the world. Your mother can’t face what he did to you. That too is reality. And listen, here is one more reality—your mother is the one who found him in the garage with a bullet in his brain. When you asked if she knew he owned a gun, she said, How could I have known such a thing? When you ask if she knew he was suicidal she says no, says it flatly, and the fact that you have understood this about him most of your life, have carried the knowledge in your bloodstream, this is one more thing to set aside, because if anything in life is certain it’s that your mother is not you. Look at her, sixty-two years old, hair streaked with white and cut short, lines like ditches streaking up her forehead, circling her baffled eyes, she looks so old. She sits there rigid on the couch in the living room of the house you have set foot in for the first time in more than a decade, holding herself like something badly stitched together, the threads fraying, and speaking the truth to her about who your father was, about who you are and how his life has touched your life, things you have tried to tell your mother under circumstances you thought of as wrenching but compared to this moment you would call some word that does not come to you but you know what you mean, if those were bad moments then this is a different universe of bad, and to say these things to her now would be like taking a knife to the threads and cutting her loose. You remember her younger, the mom of your childhood, a brisk 47


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kind energetic woman, the tight dark coils of her hair, not quite a Jewfro which made it more luxurious, something you could run your fingers through, long then, sometimes half way down her back and you let your hair grow long to be like her and she would say Rosa, you got my hair which was never exactly true, you had waves not coils and when you told her this she would say, Like mine but better. But too you have pictures from before you were born, before she married your father when she was Edith Katz not Edith Weiss. Your mother at nine, wearing a yellow dress with blue buttons running up to the collar, her face ringed by dark curls, thoughtful, the camera catching her from the left as she looks across at something, at someone, behind her an old stuffed chair and a plain white wall, a calm confident little girl at home. Edith Katz at fifteen, posing this time with her mother, your grandma Gertie, linking arms, big smiles, Gertie years younger than your mother is now, than you ever knew her and what you recognize are her straight white teeth and the love in her eyes, love you see reflected in the face of the glowing fifteen-year-old girl who had something then that you never had, not love exactly because you know your mother loved you, still loves you in the way that she is able, which is not enough and has never been enough. This is what she had at fifteen that you have never had, love that is enough. You are trying now to connect the dots and piece together how the girl became the woman, how one woman became another and ended up the too-old mother sitting on the couch in front of you and using every bit of strength to hold herself together because otherwise what is left of her life would dribble out. The dots don’t connect. But this you know already.You have written all about it, conventional marriage for women, the ritual sacrifice of identity, discontinuity of self. Such fancy words, the stock and trade of your other life. In plain English? How about this—the sonofabitch crushed her. The fucking patriarchy destroyed her. Not only the patriarchy, nothing ever is so simple, you know this. Yes, obviously the Nazis had a hand in it too. And you? Well, you didn’t stay in a bad marriage for thirty-nine years. Not even nine years. You kept your name—your father’s name. Where’s the victory in that? A room of your own, sure, but how about a name of your own? You hold your mother up against your own life, who you were, who you are, and find it’s a map to nowhere. So. What can you possibly say to persuade your mother not to have a rabbi? Reality, Rosa. Face it honey. There is nothing you can say. How After All to Talk to Your Mother about Your Father You can’t actually avoid talking about him. Here you are after fourteen years of walling yourself off from the man, in this house that is not the house of your childhood because your parents, in flight from the Blacks who kept encroaching on one Detroit Jewish neighborhood after another, fled all the way to 48


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the spacious Whiteness of Farmington Hills with its huge lots and immaculate lawns. So it’s not even like you’re back home in this house where you set foot exactly once before the drama of his suicide has drawn you here like a fish on a hook. You were twenty-four, living in New York in a snug little apartment in Soho, working the research assistant job at NYU, in that phase when you believed, wanted to believe, that you had left your father behind and were getting on with your life just fine. So much so that you thought it was no big deal to come back to visit. Your parents had moved, a big deal to them and they wanted you to see the new house. Sure, you told your mother on the phone. I’d love to. You thought you’d gotten so far away that your father couldn’t touch you ever again. But that’s what he does, literally, he touches you. You arrive. Your parents naturally want to give you a tour. Your little brother Joey, who by this time towers over you, has driven up from Ann Arbor. He’s been here already more than once but the idea, your mother’s orchestration, is to bring the whole family together. Sure. You and Joey have nothing in common, he’s a hulking egocentric male who has no concept of his own privilege or the whole range of power shit between men and women, and beneath that he grew up your father’s son and not his daughter which means he grew up in a different universe than you, but your mother wants him here so fine, whatever. Now he’s tagging along as the four of you walk through this sprawling ranch, the huge living room with plush burgundy carpeting, its picture window looking out on a sleepy suburban street the other side of the big treeless lawn, a kitchen that would take your own perfectly serviceable little kitchen and swallow it whole, sparkling countertops and endless cabinets, brand new electric range, the two doored fridge with a nifty dispenser that spits ice, on to the dining room and its imposing maple table, on to the den, on to the master bedroom. At first you proceed two by two, your mother and you in front, your father and brother behind, a neat division by gender and you realize that Joey being here serves its purpose, let the men keep each other occupied. It’s not that you’re scared of your father anymore, you’re an adult and you can hold your own and you could hardly expect to be here and have him ignore you. But honestly, the less the better. Then somehow the tour bogs down in your parents’ room, now it’s the four of you facing each other in a jagged semicircle in front of their enormous bed having a single conversation about how wondrous all of it is. You’re saying very little because this is so far from your idea of wondrous but you’re nodding and trying to pass for pleasant when your father goes into his riff about how he came to America with just the shirt on his back. It’s like flipping a switch on a tape machine, you’ve heard this recording so many 49


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times and it would be a little easier to take if it weren’t one cliché after another. Even so you choose the path of least resistance which is to keep nodding and let yourself space out just a little when from nowhere, for no reason you can possibly imagine, he reaches across the open space between him and you and rests his big hand on your arm. You freak out. You try to talk yourself down, after all it’s really nothing that he’s doing, not even the contact of skin against skin, just the light pressure of his hand on the sleeve of your sweater, nothing. But you know it’s not true. You know this because your body is on fire. His touch is the striking of a match and the skin on your arm beneath the sweater is gasoline and in a blink the match penetrates the fabric and everything he ever did to you is alive in your body and scorching the very center of your being. You pull back from him, turn, step away, try to take in air, fail, try again, fail, tears stream hot on your face and you have to get out of there, now, your life is on the line and somehow you force out the words, Mother take me to the airport. They all think you’re crazy. They try to talk you out of it and it only makes you seem crazier. On the way to the airport you made a single fruitless effort to explain to your mother. He couldn’t have done those things, she said. I would have known. The passage of fourteen long years is only a heartbeat and here you are again in the cavernous living room and how many things can your mother possibly say without brushing up against the heart of the matter? Logistics, the arrival of relatives, all on her side of course, your uncle Irv from Chicago who is just dying to see you after all this time, cousins, children of cousins, getting Joey to take some responsibility but you know how boys are (never mind that he’s thirty-five and has a family of sorts and some hot shot corporate job), food, sleeping arrangements, the dreaded meeting with Rabbi Steiner, planning for the reception. Okay, that exhausts the logistics. Her grandson, she wants to hear all about little Jonah, who is actually not little anymore and is blessedly off at overnight camp in New Hampshire and for whom the death of a grandfather he has never known can only be an abstraction. Your mother has seen Jonah exactly twice, once after his birth and then five years ago when he still was little, you have invited her and invited her but no, she wouldn’t want to hurt your father’s feelings. Now she can’t stop talking about him, one question after another, all predictable, what does he like in school, what are his favorite sports, who are his friends, has he written to you from camp, did you bring a photo, no?—then please send one the minute you get home. And what about you, Rosa, is there a man in your life? Your first thought is to say but like so many other things you let it pass and tell her the truth, that you are as single as the day is long. Your job, she wants to hear about that, such a wonderful thing, tenure track at Wellesley, and remind her what it is you’re teaching? Women’s studies, you tell her—is 50


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there anything else to teach at Wellesley? Well, she says, there must be some courses in things like math and science. Oh yes, that’s right, your mother does not do irony. Finally you can’t stand it and you ask, “Ma, how are you doing with this?” “This?” Her expression is blank, genuinely. “His death. The way he died.” She shrugs. Her face shifts from blank back to dazed. “I don’t think about how he died. We had forty good years together. That’s what I think about, Rosa.” Forty good years. You’re gagging on this. There is nothing for you to say. But your mother is present enough to know what you’re not saying. “Rosa, please understand. There was a side of your father you didn’t know.” “And there was a side of your husband you didn’t know.” There, you couldn’t stop yourself, it’s out. “I did know. No one came out of the camps without being wounded.” “You think you know,” you say quietly, doggedly. “But you don’t.” Time to give yourself a lecture: enough of this, Rosa. There are so many things your mother doesn’t know. That you were sexually active at thirteen. That you have been a raging alcoholic most of your adult life. That you are terrified of the damage you are passing down to your son. That you have considered suicide more times than you can count. That she failed you in ways you will never possibly be able to tell her. How to Talk to the Rabbi about Your Father He comes to the house for a chat with the bereaved. Rabbi Avrom Steiner, who must be in his eighties, wearing the inevitable yarmulke and scraggly beard, lines crisscrossing the exposed areas of his face, eyes sunken, but still straight backed and lucid. He’s an institution—your rabbi growing up; your mother’s rabbi growing up; the one who married your parents in 1947. Now he sits with the three of you at the big table in the dining room, sipping tea. You should give him the benefit of the doubt. His condolences are scripted, but not necessarily pro forma. What else is he supposed to say, really, than how sorry he is, what a terrible loss for the family. These words are his bread and butter, but you also have words that are your bread and butter when you stand in front of your students. Nothing to be gained from looking for trouble. Trouble will come of its own volition soon enough. 51


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When he asks your mother how she is doing, well, isn’t it the same thing you tried to ask her? When your mother gets teary, and he says gently, Yes, this is a moment for tears, and then she starts crying in earnest, and he says, That’s right, Edith—no need to be jealous. He is her rabbi, you are her daughter, you need to keep these things straight. He asks the same simple question to each of you in turn. Joey knows he can’t match his mother’s emotions and isn’t expected to by anyone, including himself. He manages a solemn face and says it’s tough but he knows the family will get through it. And you, Rosa? says Rabbi Steiner. Indeed—and you? What in the world are you supposed to say? That you’re glad your father is dead? Or if not glad, then relieved? Or if not exactly relieved—you do a quick internal scan and locate nothing that actually feels like relief—then something so massive and elusive that even if this were a friendly audience you doubt you could do more than string together words that are only signposts; rage, terror, alcohol, orgasm, self-loathing, words that merely bring you full circle to this place of silence. Say something, Rosa. “It’s complicated.” Joey glares at you with the contempt of the holy. But the rabbi nods benignly, as if to say it’s nothing he hasn’t heard before. “So I gathered. Your father—a complicated man, George Weiss.” Rabbi Steiner meets your gaze steadily, waits to see if you will respond. You don’t. What else for him to do now but segue to the business at hand? At the funeral, are there particular things the family would like him to say? Without waiting for a reply he says that the most important thing, in the end all that really matters, will be to honor the memory of George Weiss. He’s certain that is what the family would want. He looks only at your mother as he speaks, six decades of memory and submission between them. You might be tempted to short circuit this lifelong connection, to ask, Rabbi, I concede that my father was a human being who suffered, but beyond that what exactly is there in the memory of George Weiss that deserves to be honored? A word of advice: don’t bother. Everything he said is code for what you already knew, that he will not tarnish your father’s memory by saying anything real. You could pound the table with the heel of your hand and shout at the old man, For god’s sake, Avrom, George Weiss put a bullet in his brain! For god’s sake, George Weiss made his daughter’s life a living hell! For god’s sake...Don’t say it, Rosa. It would only confirm what they already believe, that there is something impossibly wrong with you, that you are the problem, that like a package of explosives you must be handled with extreme care. If you can’t say something pleasant, don’t say anything at all. For god’s sake, indeed. God, whose presence is supposed to be hovering in the room. What kind of a god would allow...? So many variations to the 52


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old question and always the same answer. Let it be. How to Fall off the Wagon You told your mother you wanted to spend time in the place where your father died. It’s possible you believed this in the moment you said it, it’s also possible you didn’t, but the second you stepped foot into the garage you realized it was either a fraction of the truth or total bullshit. Meanwhile another part of your brain was noticing the ways this garage is different from the one on Warrington that you knew so well. This one is connected to the house via a little hallway off the kitchen and has an outside door operated by one of those fancy remote control devices. It’s bigger than the one you remember, holding two cars with plenty of space on either side. Only your father parked in the garage in the back yard on Warrington, with its rickety hand operated wooden door that would never slide all the way down—where you had sex with a boy for the first time in the freezing cold in the winter of eighth grade. On the other hand, as your father would say, a garage is a garage, am I right? You remember the boy’s name, Arnold Berger. He wanted you to call him Arnie but you insisted on Arnold. Your family had moved to the house on Warrington two years before from the one on Prairie where you had lived since you were born, moved for no other reason than that your father was making more money and could afford a slightly bigger house in a slightly better neighborhood, it wasn’t even a question of the Blacks (they had other names for them too) who in 1960 had not yet crossed Six Mile Road. In the new neighborhood you were thought of as wild, in the sense of daring or reckless, which earned you a strange mixture of admiration and disdain. You didn’t really care, you wanted to be your own person, and without giving it any thought you were determined not to connect the dots between what was happening at home and the rest of your life. You met Arnold at a party. He was three years older. The garage was your idea. Your father kept alcohol there, you knew where. It was a daring thing to do. The sex was not anything you care to remember. So. Why have you come out to this garage today? There’s a dot you can connect. The word has seven letters, starts with al, ends with l, play hangman and fill in the blanks. You’re three and a half years sober. That’s 1,273 days at a time. But in this moment you are intent on finding the bottle of vodka your father always kept stashed in the garage. That is the unsettling truth, Rosa. Then again there is truth and there is truth, and in this alcoholic line of living, honesty is a tricky business. Even now you’re telling yourself, Okay, right, I came to look for the fucking bottle, but that doesn’t have to mean I’m going to drink. It could be I’m just trying to connect with who I was during those years on Warrington. I could hold it in my hands, feel my feelings, then put it back down. I could open it and spill it out. This could still be a victory for my 53


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sobriety. In the world of addiction recovery, this is called budding, the bullshit you talk to yourself that paves the way to taking that drink, the ritual of relapse. 1,274 days ago you drove your car into the trunk of a tree. It was not a suicidal moment. It was an under the influence moment. Your son was in the back seat. He was buckled in securely and came away unscathed, at least in body. In spirit? He doesn’t like to talk about it, and who could blame him. You got banged up but your physical bruises were hardly the point. The point wasn’t about you at all, it was about Jonah. You could have killed him, driving in that condition. The intervening days of sobriety, you are about to throw them all away. You start your methodical search for the bottle, which you know has to be here somewhere. In the garage of your youth he kept it in a plain bag on a high shelf. You scan the walls and there are no high shelves. There is a low shelf along the back wall. Most of it is bare. You spot a white plastic basket, comb through it, find only garden tools, an old pair of brown work gloves, the size to fit your mother. Nothing that you’re looking for. On the rest of the shelf, a stack of newspapers, some rags, a bag of potting soil. That’s it. Next you plod one slow step at a time around the perimeter, inspecting the floor of the garage where it meets the walls. Nothing, nothing, nothing. A coiled hose, which you lift and drop. A lawnmower, concealing not a thing under or behind or inside it. A rake. A broom. A couple of shovels. Otherwise bare floor, bare walls. As you are not finding the bottle, your urgency grows. At the same time, in a different part of your brain, you are telling yourself it’s not too late, you could still go back inside, find a place where you can talk privately on the phone, call Marcie, get her to talk you down. You know you’re not going to do that. Actually it is too late. You just have to find the fucking bottle. Your one certainty is that it is somewhere to be found. You know your father. All that’s left is to search the cars. Both of them are late model American sedans, one black, the other light green. The black one was your father’s, not a doubt, and how fitting. You try the passenger doors, front and back, both locked. Your heart is racing. You walk around to the driver’s side, pull the handle. It opens. You slip inside. Close the door gently so it makes only a tiny metallic sound. You find the switch for the overhead light. Check the seat beside you, crane around to scan in back. Feel under the two seats in front. You think to scoot in back to check the floor, but first you open the glove compartment, find a stack of maps, below them the driver’s manual. Under the manual you feel it, instant recognition, touch of glass, shape of a pint. You pull it out. Even in this ultimate moment of throwing it all away, you persuade 54


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yourself that you are not really throwing it all away. Look, the bottle is twothirds empty, which makes the relapse self-limiting, another fine and fancy word. Not necessarily a relapse, this can turn out to be only a slip. Tomorrow will be another chance to live a day at a time, the only way anyone can live. Tomorrow this will be out of your system, something you had to get through. Anyway, whatever happens, you have your father to blame. How to Keep from Screaming During the Service When the Rabbi Says Things that are Utterly Full of Shit You sit in the obligatory front row, your mother to your right, Joey on the other side of her. Behind you people keep filing in, you sense them without having to turn and look, occupying the hushed space. Who are all these people? What was your father to them? Honestly, you could care less. Your mother is already weeping quietly before Avrom Steiner starts to speak. From the podium the rabbi looks right at her and begins at the beginning—George Weiss, born in Prague, 1914. He traces your father’s early years in war torn Eastern Europe, a bright boy and loving son having to find his way, as Jews always have, in a precarious and hostile world. Ever more precarious, that world, as George emerged into manhood, with the rise of fascism tightening like a noose around him, his family, the Jewish community, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust, suffering so far beyond the pale of what any human should endure that still, after all this time, no words suffice. You glance to your right. Joey, predictably, is dry eyed, stoic in his dark suit and yarmulke. Your mother is crying harder, making small noises, lifting her hand to her mouth then returning it to her lap, doubtless remembering that Rabbi Steiner has blessed her tears. If blessed is even a word that Jews use, it has a Christian ring and after all these years away from the fold you honestly don’t know, don’t care. And you, Rosa? As the rabbi spins out his finely crafted narrative of your dead father’s life, his arrival in America in 1946 as his family’s sole survivor, a story of monumental fortitude and courage—you are as dry eyed as your brother but vigilant, watching for lies. It has not escaped you that they have already started. Bright boy and loving son? The revered rabbi is making this shit up. The old man failed to mention, not for lack of mental acuity, that almost nothing is known about your father’s life in Europe. Yes, he was born in Prague, yes he was in a camp—but which camp exactly? Your father never said. Yes, sole survivor—as far as anyone knows, because he never talked about his family. Did they all die? Almost certainly. But the “almost,” the silence tugging at the sleeve of certainty, your father’s crimes of omission now being echoed by the rabbi—that’s the story Avrom Steiner isn’t telling. And 55


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the silence, isn’t that a story of pain beyond endurance? Isn’t there a place here for tears? For your mother, yes, you don’t begrudge her. But not for you. Absorbed in your own thoughts, you’ve been floating in and out of the rabbi’s words. Something about that first year in Detroit, but exactly what? Vigilance, Rosa, you need to pay attention. And sure enough, the rabbi goes into a riff about the obstacles George had to overcome, language and culture, starting over at thirty-two in a strange land. Yes, these things and also trauma. The word hangs in the air, and you notice, with grudging admiration, what a fine performer Avrom is. Trauma, he repeats, the same word we might use after a traffic accident, an assault, serious things to be sure but we should have a different word for the unspeakable magnitude of George’s suffering. None of us can know, says the rabbi, unless we went through what he went through. And yet he endured, and yet he persisted, and yet he overcame. Time to start gagging, Rosa Weiss, bereaved daughter of the dead man in question. Overcame? George Weiss could no more overcome trauma than he could erase the numbers on his arm. The numbers on his arm, you saw them only once, only by a quirk. Even during the summer, the hottest days, your father wore long sleeves. It was not something you ever questioned, as much part of him as the timbre of his voice or his iron grip. When your mother told you he’d been in a camp— You’re old enough to know this, Rosa, she said—the tattoo never came up, or why he kept his arm covered. Yes, you were old enough then to know about camps and tattoos, but no one was connecting dots between shirt sleeves and ink on skin and words unspoken, not you, not your mother, certainly not your father. Already you had moved to Warrington, a 12-year-old daughter on a day like any other day, walking out of your room on the second floor when your father exits the bathroom in a white terrycloth robe with wide sleeves, you’ve seen him in that robe a hundred times but this one time the sleeve snags on the door handle and there it is, so abrupt and forbidden that after the tiny unavoidable glimpse you avert your eyes, meaning that your gaze scoots up to his face because you don’t know where else to look, his eyes bear down on you and he is an animal in a trap. Catching him with his arm exposed, the numbers in plain view, was to see him more naked than the times you saw his genitals, that lovely oh so polite term for the parts of his body he oh so willingly shared with you. No, you can’t just feel sorry for him, let alone something more textured and admirable like compassion for his suffering, not back then, not now or anywhere in between. It always comes back around to what he did to you, and what he did to you, among so many other things, was to pass it all down.

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You carry something that he burned into you so much deeper than skin on an arm. Call the thing a tattoo, call the place your soul, words used in the poetic sense because, as the rabbi said so eloquently, there are no words. And don’t you actually have it worse than him? He at least had a choice, to expose his arm or keep it hidden. The place where you are marked, there is no choice. But Rosa. You need to let go of this perverse competition with your dead father over which of you has suffered the most. No line can be drawn between his pain and yours. You know this. Up at the podium, the indefatigable Avrom Steiner is talking about George and Edith. Theirs was a love affair, he says, that lasted forty years. On cue your mother is wracked with sobs. Behind you there is a rustling, sounds of bodies shifting in seats, coughing, the blowing of noses, responding to the rabbi or the grieving widow, what does it matter, people tapping into the sadness you can’t feel. The decent thing would be to put your hand on your mother’s arm, anything, some small gesture of comfort. But your mind is beyond that kind of decency, preoccupied with snapping at the rabbi, Right, you lying sonofabitch, he loved her so much he put a bullet into his brain. Avrom Steiner, the patriarch at the podium, and where has his cock crowed? Then: the loving father of Rosa and— You don’t hear anything else, literally. Your skin is crawling with your father, your intestines are raging with your father, your vagina is throbbing with your father, his hand with its iron grip is at your throat. Breathe Rosa. He is not going to squeeze the air out of you. Not here, not anywhere. It would be too clean. It’s dirty work when you do it to yourself, your father has now taught you this by example as if you didn’t already know. He’s leaving the dirty work to you. This you know too, he has carved you in his image and you are just like him, all you want is for this life to be over. How to Not Tell Your Father’s Mistress to Fuck Herself When the woman approaches you on the grounds of the cemetery after the burial, don’t walk away from her, not yet. She is tall, heavy, her face weathered. Brown hair, obviously colored, falls over her forehead in uneven bangs. Tears trickle from the corners of her eyes. Her dark dress is unbecoming, too tight, leaving thick bare calves exposed. She tells you her name and it passes through your mind like a train, was it Sandra? Sybil? Why would it possibly matter? The woman knows who you are, which apparently does matter. She says she knew your father, and think about it, why else would she be here. She is walking slowly beside you on the path that you trust leads back to the gate, since everyone seems to be going in this same direction. The grass on both sides is littered with what else, gravestones. Up ahead you can still see your mother, Joey, his wife, your uncle Irv, various cousins, from whom you managed fall back, only 57


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to find yourself with this woman whose name you have forgotten. She is telling you that she and your father go way back. She is calling him Georg, and something snaps together in your brain to make you wonder if she goes all the way back to Europe. But how could that be? Then she says that she and your father were very close, her tears break loose and shit, Rosa, this has nothing to do with Europe, could it be any clearer what she’s telling you? What she’s telling you is so much what you would expect to find in the debris of your father’s life that if the woman didn’t exist you would need to invent her. She pokes around in her bag, locates a tissue, pulls herself together. She has something else to tell you, she thinks you would want to know. A deep breath. She has a daughter and the daughter is your half-sister. The daughter also apparently has a name which you have instantly misplaced. Karen? Katherine? There is a whole stack of words you could say to this woman but really, Rosa, why waste your breath. Just pick up your gait, walk away from her, now is the time, don’t look back. All that’s left is to restrain your urge to spill this revelation onto your mother like vomit. Don’t do it, Rosa. It’s easy to think the stench would force her to admit at last who her husband really was. But what’s to stop her from believing this is one more thing you’re making up? Denial can outflank almost anything. Let the poor woman be. That leaves you shouldering the burden. What else is new? Besides, it’s only a couple of fresh turds plopping onto a pile of shit so wide and deep that it could plug a whole lifetime of psychic toilets. Does the metaphor work? Don’t worry about it, Rosa. Face forward. You have a reception to go to. How to Drink Until You Drop at the Reception Back at the ranch, literally, the cadre of brisk, efficient women managing the reception are at pains to convey that they have everything under control. For the mourners en masse they do this in the way they carry themselves, the controlled pace of their movements, their coordinated efforts that collectively place them everywhere at once, that wondrous system of nonverbal cues that makes the social world of women run. Still, they don’t seem to notice the fog you individually are in. Could it be that you read their cues better than they read yours? Oh yes, you forgot, you have professional training. Besides, they don’t need to communicate nonverbally with you because with you, dear daughter of the dead man, they use their words. You have hardly any idea who these women are, meaning you don’t know their names and if you met them years ago as friends of your mother, those memories are long gone. What’s left is a vague sense that these are the type of women who would be your mother’s friends. But they assume you are as familiar with them as they are with

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you. They don’t bother introducing themselves, just come up to you to announce that the food is all set or the flowers have been arranged or, in the case of the woman in the plain black dress with short gray hair and no make up, a woman whose appearance under other circumstances might suggest some sort of common ground, but under these circumstances she is emphatically assuring you that for the duration of shiva you and your mother are to do nothing. Oh, right. Shiva. Another woman asks if you are staying the full week. No, you have to get back. Back? she asks, showing and then covering the look of reproach. Yes, you tell her, back to Boston, back to your son. Oh yes, of course, your son. Never mind that Jonah is off at camp for another nine days. As you stumble around, you are playing a game with yourself. The game is how long you can go before you start drinking. It’s like staving off the climax to sweeten the pleasure of the orgasm. You know this is a bunch of shit, but that’s the point, it’s a game. Then who should appear before you but your Uncle Irv, with his full head of silver hair, wire rimmed glasses, red face, pot belly, and look there, a highball in his hand. After a bare minimum of condolences he asks if he can get you a drink, and the game is up. Just for the hell of it, say something flip, Rosa. “Does the Pope shit in the woods?” To your astonishment he gets it, laughs and says, “What’s your poison?” “Anything that was illegal in 1929.” “You got it.” Off he goes and you half expect that he’ll never come back, in which case you’ll have to do the evil deed yourself, but he does come back with a glass of, naturally, vodka. On ice, with a twist of lime. You drink and it doesn’t even feel like anything to get worked up about, only the breaking of what is it, twenty hours? of sobriety. Compared to 1,273 days, twenty hours is nothing. Anyway it’s done, so you might as well take it in stride. Tomorrow is another day, you’re going to get the hell out of here and back to the social context of your recovery. More lovely words! Anyway, this entire line of thinking is a mistake. You are violating the cardinal rule of recovery, which you know very well to be one day at a time. You can’t live tomorrow today. There is only this day, and this day is awash in vodka. Which is as it must be, because, well, it already is. As you march yourself through these marvelous thoughts, you notice that your uncle is still standing in front of you. He drinks, you drink, he says something, you say something, it’s a kind of choreography but then again they are only words, signifying....And then he filters away.

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He must be keeping an eye on you though, your considerate Uncle Irv, because he keeps reappearing to freshen your drink. By the fourth one, or is it the fifth?, you and Irv are thick as thieves, and he spirits you off to the corner of some room, there are so many you can’t keep track, for an intimate chat. This guy has never meant much of anything to you beyond the technical biology that makes him your mother’s brother. He lives in—St. Louis? No, right, Chicago. Good remembering, Rosa. The last time you saw him had to be twenty years ago, for what occasion you have no idea. He didn’t bother to come to your wedding, which barely caught your attention. For that matter he didn’t come to your divorce, haha. Now, in the space of however long, an hour? two? he has become the indispensable person in your life. “Your father,” he says. “Hell of a guy.” “Sure.” “Shame, the way he died.” “Right.” “Beautiful service.” “Right.” “That old geezer. You’ve got to hand it to him.” “Sure.” Only words, Rosa. Let them pass. You should concentrate on the business at hand, which is drinking. Vodka is real. “Listen, about my sister. Is she okay? Do you think? No, wait, it’s a stupid question. Jesus, of course she’s not okay, her husband just blew his brains out. Shit, listen to me. The man was your father and listen to how I’m talking about him. Sorry. No, I mean it, I am really sorry.” “Sorry about what? That’s what he did, Irv, he blew out his brains. It’s only the truth.” Your kindly uncle runs the sleeve of his jacket along his mouth, regroups. “Here is what I mean. Will Edith be all right? In, I don’t know, a month? How long does it take to get over something like this? Do you think?” Tell him what he wants to hear. “Yes, Irv.” “Yes what?” “Yes, she’ll be all right.” “You really think that?” “Yes.” He drinks. You drink. That’s more like it. A casual observer, say an anthropologist from Mars, well no, such an observer could hardly be casual, anyway the point is that this might be considered an awkward moment, the conversation lapsing into silence, Irv looking to his left and then 60


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his right as he gathers his thoughts, the glaze that must be covering your face. But alcohol smooths it all away. Actually the silence is soothing. You could sit like this for hours. But no, he speaks. “Your father. Listen, can we be honest?” “Have we been anything else?” “All right, honestly. There was something about him—I mean, I know what he went through. Obviously I know, we all know, the rabbi....Christ. I shouldn’t be saying this to you.” The poor man, he has talked himself into a knot and he looks at you with eyes that ask, no, implore you to untangle it and make this okay. You say nothing. Good woman. “All right. Let me put it this way. What was he like? As a father?” You are sitting in the gutter with this man and suddenly he wants you to bare your soul. Never mind that the man is your mother’s brother. He’s still a man, this is still a gutter. But what is it you’re supposed to do in the gutter? Oh, right. “Irv,” you say, “can you get me another drink?”

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Lilith

Beverly Burch

Of course snakes are liars. Parched by lies, they wriggle out of them like skin. Eve begged to be finished with innocence so the snake forked its tongue and lisped dogma. The mind’s a rusted gate. Does not spring open in rescue. Desperate, she climbed hand over hand like a child. She shouldn’t repent tasting, only that it was brief: no time to learn a tree’s uselessness. Now she strokes bark on any brown trunk with a smattering of leaves and her hands itch. The first wife leaves clues for the second—listen, how he named the trees. Oak, pine, ash. I said, Why not honey locust, witch hazel, pussy willow? God lifted his big paws

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and sculpted me, same clay as Adam— we were two lonely mutts. Like a drill driver Adam went at it. I taught him licking, biting. Lips, legs, the freakish heart beat. Pleasure arrives in the dark but if you shriek God, oh God, it confuses him. My body was the mystery— spate of blood every month. Then it ended. I vomited grassy soup, my belly became a stupdendous apple, ready to drop. Inside something kicked like a small rabbit: love fruit. A child frees you from the garden. Eve, ma doublure, ma soeur. I whistle in the branches— both good and evil—your name in it.

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Through the Cracks, Into the Sky Alice Hatcher

My friend Michelle and I came of age in the summer of 1986, tripping on acid and playing badminton on a tennis court edged with weeds. The times were hardly auspicious. Caught in Nancy Reagan’s long shadow, we were losing the War on Drugs to adults with stiff drinks in their hands and tough love on their lips. We even ran afoul of our authoritarian phys ed teacher and ended up in gym summer school. There, we discovered the failings of a system ostensibly designed to reform inept and otherwise troubled youth falling through the cracks of state-mandated fitness programs. Gym summer school remains, to this day, an ugly blot on our permanent records. It remains, in my memory, the low point of a cruel summer. When I try to explain everything that happened to us, I do what comes naturally to most convicted offenders; I blame absent parents. Michelle’s father, only a year before, had suffered “death by misadventure” in a situation involving cocaine, a hot tub and a desk clerk at the Starlight Motel next to Burger King. The loss left Michelle a bit unhinged. Once, she tried to explain the official cause of death listed on her father’s “gift certificate” and spent hours laughing about her Freudian slip. A self-medicating manic-depressive, my father was hardly the sort of guy who could have steered me straight. To be fair, he did impart, to me, one valuable piece of wisdom. In doing so, he inadvertently gave me and Michelle the intellectual tools to dismiss him out of hand. He imparted this, his singular nugget, one Saturday morning, a few months before Michelle and I were sentenced to gym summer school. That morning, he found me slumped in our living room couch, tugging strands of synthetic stuffing from a split vinyl cushion and crying. Bristling, he turned from my blotched face and glanced at my eleven-year-old brother, sitting on the floor, hunched over an open book, and our German Shepherd Duke shredding a sock between his paws. Finally, he looked at Michelle, sprawled in his TV chair – her MTV chair – looping her bleached bangs around her middle finger and watching Cindy Lauper sass a cop. Michelle pushed her gum against her teeth and blew a large pink bubble to block out my dad’s face. My dad turned back to me. “What the hell’s wrong, now?” “I just got dumped.” I wiped my nose with the back of my hand. He considered the acne blossoming on my chin. “If everyone liked you, it would mean something was wrong with you. Just move on.” 64


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I picked at a callus on my thumb. My brother leaned over his book and started rocking. Michelle sucked her gum back behind her teeth and muttered what sounded like an obscenity. My father patted his shirt pocket and considered an ashtray overflowing with the ground-out butts of Pall Malls, Marlboro Reds and Virginia Slims. “No one said you could smoke in the house. Whoever’s got them, hand them over.” Michelle finally drew a hard pack of Marlboro Reds from her army surplus bag. My dad lit a cigarette and slid the pack into his shirt pocket as Mötley Crüe replaced Cindy Lauper in MTV’s rotation. “A bunch of hysterics in drag.” After a moment, he dropped his half-smoked cigarette, our cigarette, into an empty Tab can. “Get up,” he said to my brother. “We have to go next door and tell the Byrds you’re going to pay for the damage to their car. We’ve waited too long.” My brother looked up from a photograph of a Great White shark. He’d gone completely pale. “How am I going to pay them?” “You can mow lawns. You know what they say. You play, you pay.” “He wasn’t doing anything.” I wiped a trace of blood from my thumbnail. “He fell over on his bike going down their driveway.” “He shouldn’t have been on their driveway.” “You can’t even see the scratch,” Michelle said. My dad considered Michelle’s studded dog-collar bracelet and squinted at the flaming car wreck on the front of her t-shirt. “What the hell’s that shirt you’re wearing?” “The Dead Kennedys. A band. Can’t believe you haven’t heard of them.” “No-talent hacks trying to get a rise out of people. It’s a disgrace.” Michelle shrugged. “If everyone liked the Dead Kennedys, something would be wrong with them.” My dad crossed the room and turned off the television. Without a word, we abandoned my brother and retreated to the attic, a cramped half-finished space that, with posters and candles and incense burners, we’d turned into a shrine to The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Metallica and the Sex Pistols. It was the perfect place to get high. It was badly vented, so unless we opened the window, the smell of skunk weed rarely drifted from the room. I sat down on the floor beside the window, studied a Jim Morrison poster taped to two roof beams and imagined running my fingers across the soft black leather of the Lizard King’s second skin. “What a hypocrite.” Michelle drew a fresh pack of Marlboros from her bag and handed me a cigarette. “He just said that shit about being liked 65


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because no one likes him.” “Maybe he’s right.” I twisted around and cracked open the window. “He’s totally testerical. He’s the one who needs to move on.” Michelle lay down on the floor, and for several minutes, we stared at strips of exposed insulation and listened to Metallica’s Anaesthesia. When my dad’s voice drifted up from the Byrd’s driveway, we struggled to our knees and peered over the windowsill. Below, my dad was crouched before the front panel of a gleaming white Monte Carlo SS. My brother stood behind him, picking his nose. “Your dad might not give a rat’s ass whether or not everyone likes him, but he sure gives a steaming heap of shit about Mrs. Byrd and her car,” Michelle said. “She doesn’t deserve a Monte Carlo.” I opened the window another few inches and leaned against the screen. “Penny-loafing turd. My mom said she actually polishes the pennies in her shoes every week.” “Never seen her drive the thing. Bet she doesn’t even know how. When she finally tries, she’ll probably push it down the street. Jump on the trunk and roll like she’s on the back of a Big Wheel.” I nodded silently, as my father backed away from the car and led my brother to the Byrd’s house. With his hand on my brother’s bent shoulder, my father stood beneath a hard plastic awning, rapping on a warped screen door until Mrs. Byrd appeared, wearing khaki pants and holding what looked like lemonade. Michelle pulled away from the sill to fish a brittle roach from an incense burner, and we leaned back against the wall. Jim Morrison pouted at us. Johnny Rotten snarled at us. Robert Plant beckoned us, with upturned palm and a raised finger, to go to California. Michelle drew a wisp of smoke from a tiny twist of paper pinched in my mom’s tweezers. “Your brother got a raw deal,” she said, exhaling. “And your dad blows chunks.” “No shit. Mrs. Byrd blows, too.” I took the tweezers from Michelle. “My mom thinks my dad’s fucking her.” “Your mom’s just drunk.” “Doesn’t mean she’s not right.” “Not even your dad could get it up for Mrs. Byrd.” Michelle took back the tweezers and extinguished the remains of our roach between her thumb and forefinger. “Let’s go to Wag’s. I’m jonesing for some pie.” Leaving the house, we met my dad and brother in the alleyway. “Your brother screwed up, but he did the right thing.” My dad stepped around the Byrd’s Monte Carlo. “At least he has his self-respect.” “Mr. Byrd’s still really mad,” my brother said. My dad lowered his voice. “To hell with that bastard and his lectures.” He turned to me. “It’s just another case in point. Not everyone’s going to like you all the 66


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time.” He studied my charm bracelet, a repurposed chain taken from a toilet tank at school and strung with fishing lures, and the Suicidal Tendencies pin on Michelle’s bag. “Sometimes, no one might like you.” “Even if nothing’s wrong with you,” Michelle said, and we started down the driveway. “Your dad’s an asshole,” she added when we reached the curb. Michelle wasn’t exactly disposed to give my dad a charitable read, but the fact remains: he was an asshole. A petty tyrant and a complete douche. When he was home, which wasn’t often, he spent practically every minute polishing his ’78 Oldsmobile Cutlass, arguing with my mother, yelling at Duke, ragging me about my appearance, or pushing my brother to make weekly payments to Mrs. Byrd. He didn’t seem to care that Mirabelle Byrd and her scabby twelve-year-old friends, preppy little shits who liked to crank Duran Duran from their ghetto blasters, had started taunting my brother. Every time he pushed our mower down the sidewalk, they’d throw rocks at him and talk shit about his scrawny arms and my dad’s dented Olds. My dad never said a word to Mrs. Byrd. I might have stepped in, but at sixteen, I was far too old to kick Mirabelle Byrd’s bony ass, and my brother might have been even more humiliated if I’d intervened. Anyway, Michelle and I had other things to keep us busy. Most importantly, we had Michelle’s fourth-hand Corolla, a powderblue beast plagued with gaping rust holes, creaking struts, and worn brakes that made every encounter with an intersection a terrifying ordeal. We spent our evenings driving around with the windows open, cranking the Violent Femmes and reveling in our newfound mobility. At intersections, we’d pull up alongside seniors from the local college prep school and score half-consumed cans of Budweiser and lit cigarettes, and if we followed them to Shorewood Park, a crude knowledge of anatomy. At the end of the night, some overeager guy from “the Academy” would end up with the promise of another meeting and the phone number of our beleaguered algebra teacher. Sometimes, we got our kicks in more wholesome ways, by cruising the strip mall on 95th Street to harass random middle-aged couples. In the parking lot, we’d wind around the corner of White Castle, cruise past the discount outlet that sold defective greeting cards (“Let Your Heart Sore This Valentine’s Day” and “Awake to Each New Mourning”), and then shift into higher gear as we bore down on some unsuspecting couple – usually a pair of forty-something year-olds nuzzling in front of Radio Shack or brushing shoulders over a shared sundae from Baskin Robbins. I’d hang out the passenger window, and in my most plaintive voice, scream some variation of “Hey Dad, you can come home, now. Mom said it’s OK,” or “Hey Dad, can you send Mom this month’s check? We need groceries.” The expressions on their faces usually told us everything we wanted to know about the nature of their relationship. Most of the time, we simply baffled 67


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our victims, but there were still those great moments when florid men would chase our car, waving their fists in deadly combinations of shame and rage. Sometimes, both members of the couple would hang their heads or turn their backs on the street and feign concentration on a window display. We had a lot of fun, that is, until the afternoon we stepped up our game and cruised Weber’s Inn, a seedy establishment known for layover hook-ups originating out of Midway. I lit a cigarette and pointed to a couple standing on the littered sidewalk in front of a first-floor room. “Slow down. These two are perfect,” I said. I struggled into position in the passenger window, and a rush of warm air blew my hair back. “Hey Dad,” I yelled, “We all want to you to come home. Mom’s not mad anymore.” I slid back into the car and collapsed into my seat, laughing until I glanced into the rear-view mirror. In its vibrating glass, I saw my father, leaning against a doorframe and staring at the ground, and Mrs. Byrd with her hand over her mouth. “Your dad’s such an asshole,” Michelle said. I took a long draw off Michelle’s one-hitter and leaned back in my seat. I didn’t open my eyes until we reached my house. We found my mother slumped at the kitchen table, finishing the last can of beer from a six-pack and smoking. “I need to talk to you,” she said. “About your father.” Something in her posture sickened me. “We already know.” “That he’s a complete asshole,” Michelle muttered, and we went up to the attic to listen to Metallica’s Fade to Black. Nine days later, my father moved out of the house. My mother found a divorce lawyer, switched from Virginia Slims to Lucky Strikes and traded Bud Lights for vodka-Tabs. Michelle, my brother and I went a little feral. We ate dinner at odd times, feasting on burned microwave popcorn and bologna sandwiches. My brother discovered Black Sabbath and started stealing cassettes from Blue Skies Records. For days, he listened to nothing but Into the Void and Fairies Wear Boots. One week, he went without shoes. Michelle and I graduated from toothpick joints and one-hitters to bowls and two-foot bongs. I stopped washing my hair. Michelle littered with criminal intent, breaking glass bottles against curbs, tossing smoking cigarettes into park trashcans and stuffing candy wrappers and soda cans into public mailboxes. Michelle and I spent more and more time in the attic, memorizing the lyrics to Pretty Vacant, communing with the Lizard King, and creating collages with Krazy Glue and photos from Creem Magazine. One fateful night, we wrote all over our arms and legs with a black Sharpie marker. We’d been talking about knee-capping Mrs. Byrd and speculating on 68


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the pain of self-inflicting prison tattoos when Michelle pulled the Sharpie from her bag. “Fuck pins. You’d get AIDS or some shit. But tattoos would look cool.” She stripped off her shirt and started drawing on her arms, all the way up to her bra straps. She drew the Dead Kennedy’s logo on her wrist, first, and then worked her way up to her shoulders with pot leaves, Ozzy lyrics, a snake and something resembling testicles. Then she slid out of her jeans and covered her legs with scrawled swear words and lines approximating her skeletal structure. When she finished, she sprawled across the floor and extended the marker to me. I undressed quickly and considered the freckled canvas of my skin. In large letters, I wrote the names of ten guys in our high school on my calves, drew arrows upward along each of my inner thighs and scrawled “Into the Void” along each arrow. Finally, I wrote “Pig” on the back of my thighs, beside our gym teacher’s name, and the crude names of improbable sexual positions on my inner arms. “It’s too messed-up.” Michelle opened a jar of bubble solution and forced a stream of cigarette smoke through the loop at the end of a small plastic wand. Smoke-filled bubbles drifted to the floor and, one by one, exploded in tiny mushroom clouds. I studied the sudsy fallout covering wooden planks. “For what? Prison tattoos?” Michelle crawled to my side and took the marker from my hand. For several minutes, she drew flowers and polka-dotted mushrooms on my shoulders. “Now, it’s like Robert Plant’s shirt in the Song Remains the Same.” I twisted around and traced the outline of a flower with my fingertips until Michelle gently pushed my hand away. “Let it dry.” The writing, in terms of passing gym class, was on the wall. By the time we came down, we were too tired to scrub away swathes of graffiti and utterly indifferent to the fact that we had to be in gym class for the start of a swimming unit in nine hours. Just before midnight, we fell asleep on either end of the livingroom couch, in the television’s flickering light. The next morning, we surveyed the damage and did some quick math. We were already failing gym due to several unexcused absences and three incidents involving intentional high-sticking and vandalized tennis racquets. Then, circumstance conspired against us. I felt the first cramp fifteen minutes before the start of gym class, in the parking lot of the Park District Rec & Ed (Wreck & Head) facility across the street from our high school. I suppose I should have read the signs earlier, but I’d been feeling ugly and adrift for so long I hadn’t noticed anything unusual about my mood or the fact that my pants had grown tight over the last two days. “I got my period.” I bent over and examined the crotch of my slashed 69


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jeans. “It’s way early.” “Better than way late,” Michelle said, tracing a glorious silver lining, at least, around my miserable mess. We entered the locker room five minutes after class started. If things had been different, we might have stepped out onto the pool deck in our threadbare swimsuits and braved ridicule for the scrawl covering our limbs. We might have flailed our way through forty minutes of cannonballs, wedgies and clumsy front-crawling. We might have avoided the whole mess of gym summer school. But fate, or at least the Park District’s negligent custodial staff, had not favored us. When Michelle emerged from a bathroom stall in her swimsuit, I was kicking the side of a tampon wall dispenser and cursing. “It ate my quarter.” Michelle came to my side and pounded the dispenser with her palm. “Fucking thing’s always empty. You should get some toilet paper, dude.” When I came from the bathroom, we sat down on a narrow bench between two rows of steel lockers. I held my abdomen and rocked back and forth. “Maybe you can get a plug from someone,” Michelle said. “They’ll know, then, and everyone’ll be skeeved out when I get in the water. They’ll freak out about AIDS or some shit.” “Seriously? You haven’t fucked around that much.” “Compared to who? You?” Michelle gripped the edge of the bench, flexed her toes and hummed quietly to herself. “Maybe I should just go out there,” I finally said. “Get in quickly. If you hand me a towel when I get out, I might not drip on the tiles.” Michelle rubbed a smudge on her knee and shook her head. “Don’t chum the water for those assholes. It’ll be a shark frenzy. They’ll never let you live it down.” I studied a Dead Kennedys logo on her wrist, and our reflections in the spotted mirrors facing either end of the bench. Michelle and I looked pale, almost sickly, under the fluorescent lights. Goose bumps had appeared on our arms. For the next few minutes, we sat in silence, hemmed in by an infinity of reflections, listening to the drip of a leaking faucet and trailing our toes along moldy grout. We should have left then, but my legs had cramped. “Everything hurts.” Michelle stood up and pulled her bag from an open locker. She rummaged through its contents, spilling pens and a pair of tweezers onto the floor, and handed me a plastic Pepsi bottle filled with rum and Coke. “Maybe it’ll help. Can’t hurt.” 70


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I took a long swig, and for the rest of first-period, while our classmates modelled bikinis or slouched over rolls of fat, we passed the bottle back and forth, until the hum of fluorescent lights merged with the guitar reverb in our heads. “We’re fucked, now,” I said, a half hour into class. My toes, by then, had gone numb. “It’s fucking gym. What the fuck are they going to do?” What they did was suspend us from gym altogether, one hour after Ms. Stolzbauer came into the locker room and found us drinking, and fifty-nine minutes after Michelle lifted her middle finger and spit on the tampon dispenser. On the basis of our priors, we received failing grades in phys ed and orders to attend an intensive eight-week summer course, “Remedial Fitness Review,” a.k.a. gym summer school. Very few people actually manage to fail gym, and our school district met enrolment by opening “Remedial Fitness” to freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors from five adjoining suburbs. Our cohort, as a result, contained some of the worst elements distilled from nine different schools – exceptionally unmotivated and anti-social types, the sort of people incapable of feigning sobriety or forcing themselves to participate in scripted group activities. In gym summer school, Michelle and I met punks with dozens of piercings and real prison tattoos. Girls with much older boyfriends who bought them vodka. Led Heads, Motorheads, Dead Heads and all sorts of acidheads, along with the only two guys in Chicago’s western suburbs who drove low riders. Drug dealers instead of casual pot smokers. Lots of guys with long hair, weathered leather jackets and wallets secured to back pockets with chains. And, inexplicably, a total prep from “the Academy” wearing a mint-green shirt and reeking of Drakkar. “This rocks,” Michelle said on our first morning of class. We’d just finished watching a short film about fungal infections, little knowing our instructor Mr. Cox, in turning off the projector, had effectively finished teaching for the summer. “Seriously, check that shit out.” I rolled my eyes towards a guy in a denim Pink Floyd jacket. “He looks like David Gilmore in Live at Pompeii.” “Pink Floyd sucks. But go for it. He’s a dealer at South. I know this girl who went down on–” Before Michelle finished her sentence, Mr. Cox scraped his fingernails on a chalkboard to get everyone’s attention. He was kind of hot, and so we gave him half a chance. “I’m not your parents–” he began. “No shit, Sherlock,” Michelle muttered. “–And I’m not going to babysit any of you–” “–Don’t take the brown acid–” 71


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Mr. Cox paused. The guy who looked like David Gilmore checked us out. “But I expect you to show up on time every morning and follow the instructions I hand out. When you’ve completed the required activities–” “We can blow you–” “–You can do whatever the hell you want,” Mr. Cox said, blushing. “I bet he took this shitty gig to support a drug habit,” Michelle whispered. “Or make alimony payments.” Mr. Cox raised his voice. “But I don’t want to see anyone wandering off the property until I dismiss class.” With that, he passed around an outline of a four-hour workout regimen consisting of a half-mile jog and vaguely specified exercises involving shotputs. From that morning on, Mr. Cox took attendance at the start of class and then disappeared for long stretches to talk on a pay phone across the street from Westmont High. We – members of the general pop – were left to our own devices, to sort shit out and get in shape on our own. During our first week, we drank Jack Daniels and meandered around the track, singing We’re Off to See the Wizard and stumbling into guys just to get their names. We sipped “McMartinis” out of fast food cups and played volleyball with burners and freaks. As the dog days of summer unfolded, we graduated to bong hits beneath the bleachers and acid tabs on tennis courts with crooked lines and sagging nets. We leapt over painted lines floating above green pavement and imagined flat tennis balls leaving perfect holes in the sky. Birds perched on the batting cage spoke a long-lost language that Michelle and I could almost understand. My fingers seemed alive to every fiber of a leather baseball mitt, and I communed with the spirts of cows slaughtered for America’s pastime. We swallowed prescription pills stolen from someone’s mom, and I puked in some bushes while Michelle did Whip-its and laughed at her hands. We developed chronic vertigo and avoided heights above three feet, opting for the shade beneath wooden slats and steel risers when we made out with bleacher leeches, as we called the guys from Downers Grove North. Neither one of us was cut out for hard drugs. My face broke out. I said incomprehensible things to strangers. Once, reeking of pot and gin, I asked the cashier at Qwik Mart for a pack of Marlboros in front of a cop and spent the rest of the day battling paranoia. In Michelle’s case, acid fostered speculation about the afterlife. That might have been fine, but some of the prescription pills pooled by the Gym Summer School Class of ‘86 turned Michelle’s speculation into deep rumination on her father’s final misadventures. She always pulled out of it, usually with the right Violent Femmes tune, until the morning the guy from “the Academy” got a swirlie. That morning, he showed up in an Izod tracksuit and walked into the 72


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guy’s locker room wearing more cologne than usual. We later heard he’d been wafting Drakkar around and bragging about his dad’s Corvette when three guys in spandex shoved his head into a toilet and flushed five times to shut him up and purge the stench. Michelle and I had been sitting in the football stands for an hour, de-stringing tennis racquets and nibbling on shrooms, when he stumbled onto the track with his hair plastered across his face, coughing up toilet water and gasping for breath. “Wonder who he pissed off,” Michelle said. “Everyone.” Michelle shook her head. “I almost feel sorry for him.” I pulled another dried mushroom from my pocket. “I wonder if you can catch HIV from toilets. You know, if you have a cut or something.” “Probably depends on what people are flushing.” “You got to wonder why he’s here. Probably failed lacrosse or golf.” Michelle watched him peel his polo shirt from his back and wipe a streak of snot from his cheek. When he bent over and retched, she rested her elbows on her knees and studied his bluish-white skin and the red flush beneath his nose. “I wonder if that’s what my dad looked like when he drowned. His hair plastered. Fucking red nose. Cokehead nose.” I slipped the mushroom between my lips, and a bitter taste flooded my mouth. Michelle turned to me. “They said it was a whirlpool. One of those Jacuzzis.” I closed my eyes for what seemed a long time. When I opened them, the guy was gone, and Michelle was staring at a dark watermark on the track. We sat in silence, watching its edges shrink until nothing of the mark remained. “I never saw his body. It was closed casket. You know?” I nodded and looked up at the sun. Its warmth joined with my own, connected me to everything and the open sky and then faded. The birds were talking again, and I became distracted until Michelle tapped my foot with the bottom of her shoe. “They should have let me see him. Say good-bye. He just went out one night and never came back. Checked into that shithole.” Michelle dropped a burning cigarette between two bleachers. “I never even saw the place.” “Just some shitty motel. Same as all the rest.” “I want to go see it.” I shook my head, but Michelle dropped her cigarettes into her purse and rose unsteadily to her feet. That morning, we pulled away from Westmont High two hours before class ended. Michelle drove distractedly and chain-smoked. I rummaged through the battered cassettes in her glove compartment and settled finally on Husker Du’s Zen Arcade. The B-side. Something serious, because we weren’t going to the 73


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Starlight Motel for our usual dip-shitted kicks. Michelle needed to know something about her dad’s last days. To feel close to him. I didn’t fully understand. I’d always thought he was an asshole. And I was shrooming hard. But I went along for the ride. For Michelle. A half-hour later, we rolled up to the Starlight and parked beneath a scuffed marquee advertising Jacuzzis, cable TV and weekly rates. “It was room 37.” Michelle pointed to a door marred by a long scratch. “I saw the number in a newspaper picture. Behind police tape. When they thought it had something to do with him owing money.” We spent several minutes smoking and staring at the litter surrounding our car. Styrofoam takeout containers and rusting beer cans. Tattered, windblown magazines. A plastic whiskey bottle caught in the wind, rolling back and forth between two curbs. Used condoms flattened on the pavement. Neither one of us spoke until Michelle pointed to a maintenance guy pushing a cart along the sidewalk fronting the rooms. “Maybe he’ll let us in. I’ll tell him my dad and I checked out this morning and I forgot something.” Michelle ground out a cigarette in the ashtray and opened the driver’s door. “You shouldn’t go in.” I trailed off and watched her walk across the parking lot. Then, with difficulty, I crawled from her car. If I’d been more together, I might have dragged Michele away from the Starlight. I hesitated, though, and then tripped on a crack in the asphalt. By the time I caught up with her, she’d already told the maintenance guy some bullshit story about staying in Room 37 with her dad the night before, after the electricity at her house went out. About how her dad had gone to work, and she couldn’t find her house keys. I don’t know if the maintenance guy actually believed her, but he pulled a master key from his paint-splattered pants. “Don’t look like it’s been cleaned yet,” he said, following us into the room. The room looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since Michelle’s dad had checked out, so to speak. Soiled sheets hung down the side of a king-sized bed. An overflowing ashtray sat on the nightstand, surrounded by empty wine bottles and overturned plastic cups ringed with dark sediment. A shade rested crookedly on the cracked ceramic base of a lamp. A red lipstick smear covered the mirror above the dresser. Used condoms hung over the edge of a small wastebasket. One lay on the carpet, beside a small desk. Michelle stared at her reflection in the mirror and studied some scrawl on a motel notepad. Then, she stepped onto a tile platform at the edge of a hot tub and looked down. I looked down with her. Beneath us, a chalky film floated upon a pool of dark water. The water had receded just enough to reveal a thick ring of soap scum, a clump 74


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of long hairs clinging to the tub’s finish, and a long red rust stain beneath the faucet. A bloated washrag hovered over a clogged drain. “What, you left your wallet in the tub?” The maintenance guy came up behind us and then wandered across the room to look into the garbage can. “Looks like you ladies had a little party last night. Take it you didn’t invite your dad. It’s cool with me. If you ladies want to keep it going, I’m game.” He sat down on the edge of the bed and stared at us while I pulled Michelle away from the hot tub. While Michelle threw up in the toilet. When we stumbled from the room and peeled out of the parking lot. We never went back to gym summer school that day. Or any other day. When we got home, we found my brother on the living room couch, curled up in my Dead Kennedy’s shirt. Duke was lazing on the floor, staring at the muted television set. Michelle sat down in her MTV chair, and I sat down on the floor and stroked Duke’s face and cooed. His whiskers bristled, and his ears turned like finely tuned antennae to my voice. I rubbed my check against his muzzle, pulled myself from the floor and sat down on the couch. I brushed a wisp of hair from my brother’s forehead and saw his fresh scratches and bruises. “You OK?” My brother nodded. Routine humiliation had permanently altered his young features. “We’re going to the park. Wanna’ come with us?” When he stood up, the hem of my t-shirt dropped to his knees, and I wondered how soon he’d grow into the shirt, into everything of mine. When we left the house, Mrs. Byrd appeared in the window of her side door. I gave her the finger, and she drew away from the glass. “You shouldn’t have done that,” my brother said. “She can’t face mom, and she sure as shit isn’t going to come after us.” “Guess she didn’t have the guts to move in with your dad,” Michelle said. “Who would?” I paused to let Duke urinate on the front tire of Mrs. Byrd’s Monte Carlo. Michelle took a long drag off a cigarette and ashed on the car’s hood while a pool of urine gathered on the driveway. Then, we all walked to Shorewood Park, smoking and cussing and talking shit like real badasses when we passed a stunned Mirabelle Byrd and her terrified friends. At the park, Michelle and I settled into some rusted swings. My brother stood at the edge of a small pond, throwing stones to send ripples through a layer of algae. Michelle pushed her heels into the dirt and reached into her bag for our one-hitter. “We shouldn’t smoke while my brother is around,” I said. “You’re right.” Michelle pulled her hand from her bag. “I can’t deal 75


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with gym summer school. It’s messing with my head.” “It’s a totally bad scene.” “We should blow it off.” “What happens if someone fails gym summer school?” I asked. “I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get expelled. Or maybe we’ll just have to repeat gym summer school next year.” “But we’ll still have to make up for failing regular gym this year. And then repeat gym summer school. It’ll just keep going.” Michelle watched my brother gathering rocks. A flock of ducks paddled around the edge of an algae bloom, and he waited for them to pass. “What can they do?” Michelle shrugged. “It’s just gym summer school.” She pushed back on the swing, let gravity pull her forward in a gentle arc and kicked her feet in the air. I followed her movements, tugging on the chains in my hands to gain momentum, rising more quickly and falling more precipitously with each pass, and hanging suspended for a longer moment each time I reached a new height. Maybe I was just messed up, but when I leaned back and saw my scuffed black boots almost touching the clouds, I felt like everything was quietly connected, perfectly still and intolerably beautiful.

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Empty Chair Francis Alix

His family sits on chairs he painted before his children were born, red chipped on slats, seats, front rails worn by feet perched as bodies leaned toward meals. With sopa de pollo cooling, taco shells ready to snap between eager jaws, they stare at the stained tablecloth, yellow as the blowing curtains, ’95 Chevy he drives to his newspaper job in Veracruz, fingers squeezing the wheel, darting eyes vigilant at traffic lights, around corners, for a sicario, vengeful for the latest article on his cartel, pulling a trigger.

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At the table head, his flattened cushion waits, timbered arms empty like Elijah’s chair, as they hunger for comfort awaiting his chair’s scrape across the floor, creak when he tosses his head in laughter or to praise the Lord, their tense legs, hunched shoulders jumping at the rumbles of oblivious passing cars while whispered Ave Maria and Padre Nuestro prayers break their voiceless vigil as light disappears and darkness announces what they already know in a language they never wanted to learn and his chair remains silent.

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Golo’s Transport Ann S. Epstein

When I was a boy of seven, my parents sent me away. I promised Papa to be good from then on, but he was not to be budged. “Mutti and I have discussed it, Golo. The matter is settled.” “What about Poldi?” I asked. My brother was only a year younger than me, but much smaller. He was born with his left leg shorter than his right, and often struggled for breath. By lurching forward and pulling his bad leg behind him, he could almost run, but his crooked gait was so comical that I called it the gimpy polka. Then Poldi would pant and flail at me like a broken windmill, while I danced away and teased that not one, but both his arms were short too. “Poldi will stay home with us,” Papa answered. I thought back to the night before when I’d been meaner to my brother than usual. After snatching his favorite toy car, I’d said cripples like him should be exterminated. “Ausgerottet!” I didn’t know the meaning of the word then, but I could tell it was nasty. “Where did you hear such language?” Papa’s whole body shook, even his hands, usually so steady while he shortened hems and sewed cuffs. It made the yellow star on his sleeve bobble. “This afternoon. A soldier with one of those silly twisted crosses on his lapel yelled it at Herr Klopfer.” Herr Klopfer was our neighbor. I didn’t like him. The old man stank of herring. “Did the soldier say anything else?” “He called Herr Klopfer a dreckiger kleiner Jude.” “A dirty little Jew.” Papa winced. “Did he hit him? “No, but he pushed him to his knees. Then he laughed when the old man cried.” Serves him right, I remember thinking. The weakling didn’t even speak German, only Yiddish. I waited for Papa to make me give Poldi back his toy, and punish me with no dessert, but he ran into the bedroom where Mutti was folding laundry. Free, I grabbed Poldi’s car again and scooted outside. He hobbled 80


the madison review after me. Soon it started to rain. I raced into the house and locked the door. Mutti, busy making supper by then, assumed Poldi had come inside with me. Even if he had tried to call up to our top-floor apartment, Poldi’s lungs were too weak to be heard. My parents had no idea he was missing until an hour later, when, as Mutti set the table, a Gestapo officer knocked on the door and shoved him inside. “Better to keep cripples like him out of sight,” he scolded. “It does not look good for the Fatherland when his kind roam the streets.” By then Poldi was soaked and shivering so badly that Mutti called Doctor Blum. There’d be no dessert for me after all. The doctor said Poldi would recover, but he advised my parents to keep my brother indoors from then on. I assumed it was so Poldi would not get sick again. Now I wonder if the grownups thought it was dangerous for a defective child to be seen in public. Before the sun rose the next morning, Papa woke me and said I had to go right away. “I won’t tease Poldi any more!” I pleaded, but how could he believe me? I’d promised so many times before, like the boy who cried wolf. What’s more, lately I’d been acting worse. It started after I was no longer allowed to go to regular school. I had to take the tram to the end of the line and walk through the woods to a little house, where Herr Buxbaum taught me and nine other Jewish boys in his living room. I was the youngest but the best at arithmetic. Frau Buxbaum was nice. She read us stories while we ate lunch. But I missed my school friends and when I got home, there was only Poldi to play with. I got angry when he couldn’t keep up with my games. I was angry at my father too. He could be as timid as Herr Klopfer. Papa was a tailor for rich ladies. On what I would later learn to call Kristallnacht, his shop windows were broken and the clothes slashed and heaped on the floor. None of his old clients were allowed to do business with him after that. He earned a few Reichsmarks sewing on Stars of David and mending the threadbare garments Jews were forced to make last. Mostly he stared out the busted windows. To buy food, Mutti made artificial flowers with wire and bits of cloth. When I told her they weren’t as pretty as real ones, her sad eyes smiled and she said I was right. Once I unraveled the thread and shredded the fabric scraps. Papa scolded and Mutti explained times were hard. Still, it didn’t stop them from giving Poldi the biggest helping of pudding at supper or an extra blanket at night. “It was bad of me to make Poldi cry.” I tried one last time to change Papa’s mind that morning. He hesitated and asked why I’d done it, but I had no answer then. If he were to ask me today, seventy-five years later, I might say I was frustrated because he was no fun to play with. Or I might answer that I wanted to make Poldi cry simply because I could. I hated seeing Papa act as

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the madison review powerless as old Herr Klopfer and I refused to be like him. I would rather be like that soldier. It was still dark when we left the house. Mutti held me tight, but Papa yanked me from her arms. I thought he was still angry about my teasing Poldi the night before, but that didn’t account for his pale cheeks. Usually, when Papa got upset, he turned red and blustered. I carried the small suitcase Mutti had packed for me. I still have it today. Papa used to take it on overnight trips to Frankfurt to buy mother-ofpearl buttons and lavender lace for the ladies’ dresses. It’s the size of a breadbox, made of light brown leather with a dark brown handle and brass clasps. The lining is gold silk. Mutti put in a few clothes, already too small and twice mended, and an apple. I don’t know where she got the apple. Then, a finger to her lips, she showed me a small pocket hidden under the lining. She gave me permission to pack the spelling medal I’d won last year but I couldn’t find it, so the pocket stayed empty. Mutti said maybe I would win another award where I was going, but I knew they didn’t give out prizes to bad boys. Papa and I boarded the tram. They used to run on the left side of the road; now they ran on the right. The conductor accidentally pulled the bell on the wrong side so it rang in the back instead of the front and he got angry and said “Ficken!” I repeated the curse under my breath, waiting for Papa’s rebuke, but he stared straight ahead. I decided he had given up yelling at me because the grownups at the place he was sending me to would discipline me from now on. We got off at the Berlin Zoo station. It was cold and drizzly. Daffodils poked up around the station entrance but were not yet in bloom. I remembered when my parents took my brother and me to the zoo the summer before. Poldi got scared when I told him he would be fed to the lions if his leg didn’t get better by the time he turned ten years old. Papa wouldn’t let me buy anything at the gift shop, only Poldi. I wondered if I was going to be locked up in a cage now as punishment. The station was crowded with children. I lost count when I got to three hundred, but more boys and girls kept coming. Were they all naughty too, I wondered. Papa pushed me forward and went to stand with the other grownups behind a thick red rope. Perhaps he said goodbye. Perhaps he’d told me all along the real reason I was being sent away, but I remember only grim looks and heavy silence. I glimpsed Papa’s pale blue handkerchief one last time, then I lost sight of him as I was herded onto the belching train. An old lady on the platform, with a silver cross around her neck, cackled and screamed at us, “You’re going on a boat filled with holes so you’ll drown!” “Pay her no mind,” said a young woman in a cap that had Refugee

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the madison review Children’s Movement embroidered on the brim. “We’ll keep you safe.” She seemed to be in charge of us, so I hoped she was right, but what if that old lady knew better? Worse, what if my parents knew it too? “My rabbit’s foot charm! I dropped it!” A girl my age wailed as we swarmed onto the train, pushing and shoving despite attempts to keep us in line. Everyone got down on their hands and knees to look for it among the ticket stubs and cigarette butts littering the floor. I crouched too until, amid the shuffle of feet, I spotted the silver chain and the fuzzy fur. My hand shot out and slipped the charm in my pocket. Later I would hide it in my suitcase’s secret compartment. After a few minutes, one of the young women said to the little girl, “It must have fallen down the crack, Effi, between the train platform and the door to the car.” “No, no, no!” The girl’s fingers dug into her cheeks. “My Oma gave it to me. She said to never lose it so I would come back to her.” “I’m sorry, Effi,” the lady explained. “We haven’t time to look anymore. But I promise you’ll come back. This way children.” She found seats for all of us, except a few teenagers, and then we pulled out of the station. I was disappointed that the train whistle did not sound. In fact, other than the gathering chug of the engine, everyone and everything was quiet. The girl beside me looked to be about ten. I asked if she knew where we were going and she said we were taking a boat to England, where we’d be safe. I wondered from what. Weren’t we the dangerous ones, being sent off to keep others safe from us? “Do you have a little brother or sister?” I asked her next. “Yes. Her name is Lottie.” “Are you ever mean to her?” “Once I called her stupid because she didn’t know our auntie’s first name.” “Is Lottie home with your parents?” She looked confused. “Of course not. That’s her up ahead in the yellow coat, sitting with her friend Wilma. My friend Margit is supposed to be on the train too, but maybe she’s in another car.” Now it was my turn to be confused. I wondered what other sins, besides tormenting younger siblings, doomed children to being sent away. The girl turned away from me to stare out the window. It was now full daylight but the sky was a uniform gray. It would not get any brighter. Some time later, we arrived at the border between Germany and Holland. The German police got on the train and ordered us to open our

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suitcases. I was afraid they’d find the rabbit charm but the pocket was well hidden. They poked rifles into our clothes, looking for weapons, and the littlest children cried when they saw the guns. The relief lady said we were hungry and to let us cross into Holland for lunch, but a soldier slapped her and said to shut up. He was wearing the same twisted cross as the soldier who made Herr Klopfer cry. I didn’t want to be like him anymore. There was a sigh of relief when we left Germany behind and crossed into the Netherlands. Gray haired men whom I later learned were Quakers handed out blankets and ladies from the Red Cross gave us milk and white rolls filled with chocolate. Even Poldi never got treats that nice from Papa and Mutti. We stayed at the Rotterdam Quarantine Station for two days waiting for the boat that would take us to England. There were lots of grownups leaving from there too and I wondered why they were being sent away. Maybe they were mean to little children. We slept together in a large barracks and ate in a big mess hall, but I was relieved that the children sat separately from those adults, tended by the women who’d boarded the train with us in Berlin. There was more chocolate cream to spread on our toast at breakfast and big bowls of something called lungen stew for dinner. Everyone was nice but there were no games and it was too cold to play outside. I kicked the table legs in boredom but none of the other children complained. Late on the second day, a Dutch guard, whether out of kindness or because he too was bored, called a group of us over and pointed to a large cardboard box with tiny holes on the top and sides. We couldn’t read the label so he told us the box held tortoises that were being loaded on a ship bound for America. He made a tiny slit in the corner so we could peek inside. A tortoise, no more than five centimeters across, poked out its head and climbed down the side of the box. Spellbound, we watched its slow progress and with a nod of permission from the guard, crawled after it across the floor. The guard laid down objects — a cigar, his key ring — for the tortoise to climb over. When the rest of the group was hunkered down and looking the other way, I crept up to the box. Using a butter knife I’d stolen at breakfast, I lengthened the slit and spread the cardboard twice as wide. Soon a line of tortoises, moving in a more stately fashion than we had when getting on the train, advanced toward the squatting children. Effi was the first to screech as one of them crawled up her chubby leg. Dozens more followed. Each tortoise was easy enough to catch but there so many that it was hard to corral them. It also wasn’t clear where to put them once they were caught, at least until the box was closed up. Nevertheless the children 84


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chased after them, scooping them up, then dropping them as they tried to lift another two or three. In their haste and confusion, a few children accidentally stepped on some tortoises and burst into tears when their shoes crushed the delicate shells and splattered a reddish-brown ooze on the waxed floor. I thought several of the boys my age and older stepped on the tortoises deliberately. We looked at one another with a knowing glint and then I was sure. “Everyone, get away from there!” A shipping clerk ran up, brandishing a roll of tape, and scattering the children, who cowered against the wall. He pointed behind the counter and told the guard to wait for him there until the box was repaired. The guard, looking scared, beat a hasty retreat. I wondered if he would be sent to England along with me and the other bad boys. At last, when even the best behaved children were bored enough to be tempted into mischief, we embarked for England. It was nighttime and sea smells drifted toward us as we held hands and blindly followed relief workers to the ship. The lights shining behind the row of portholes looked like our apartment windows in Berlin, after dark. For a moment, I thought perhaps I’d never left and Papa and Mutti would be waiting for me when I crossed the gangplank. I’d even hug Poldi in my joy at seeing them. But as I reached the deck and looked back to see the gangplank pulled up behind us, I knew my voyage was taking me farther away from home. The young women lined us up in orderly rows on the deck, handed out itchy blankets, and urged us to go to sleep. When morning came, they said, we’d be in Harwich, England, where we would meet our new families. That made no sense to me until I pictured children’s prisons with married wardens, who, like strict mothers and fathers, would watch us every minute to make sure we behaved. Lying on my back, I sought a star to wish upon, but the heavens were starless and moonless. I shivered in the damp air. Just as well. I couldn’t decide between wishing to go home or resigning myself to punishment, hoping the wardens would be fair and not too cruel. We slid through the water silently as we left Hook of Holland, but soon the sea began to churn. Many of the younger children cried out and the neat rows of bodies turned to chaos as they raced for the ship’s railings to vomit over the side. The older boys hooted, calling out kotzen Gesicht, puke face, until they themselves started to turn green. Only one boy, Axel, the size and heft of a grown man, didn’t tease anyone. He held the children’s foreheads as they leaned over the roiling waves and helped the women mop up when a child didn’t reach the railing in time. “Kindermädchen,” taunted the boy who had been the most avid tortoise smasher. Axel smiled and calmly kept swabbing the deck. “I’m no nurse85


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maid,” he said, “but I’m the oldest of ten.” With a clean rag, he wiped the mouths of two small children who clung to his broad arms. “I miss my little brothers and sisters, so I take care of these.” A wave of nausea swept over me, but I willed myself not to throw up. I tried to make myself miss Poldi, and wondered how he would have managed in those rough seas. I decided he wouldn’t have puked either. Poldi’s lungs were weak, but he was born with a strong stomach. A wispy gray light, like the hair in Herr Klopfer’s beard, streaked the sky as our ferry pulled into port. Exhausted, we’d all finally slept, except for the relief workers and Axel, who patrolled our resettled rows, soothing those who whimpered or screamed from nightmares. We didn’t stay bleary eyed for long when they woke us up. There was too much to see. Most memorable were the tall policemen, bobbies I would later learn to call them. They wore strange helmets, with a big star on the front and a metal rose on top, nothing like the headgear of the German soldiers. The British officers also smiled kindly at us, unlike their counterparts back home. I can almost taste, too, the fish and chips the waiting Quaker ladies fed us for breakfast. By now I’ve eaten fish and chips hundreds, if not thousands, of times, but that first taste was the best of my life. We’d barely wiped our greasy mouths on our sleeves when our sense of well-being was disrupted. The time to meet our foster families had come, and our stomachs were gripped with a different kind of distress. A fresh corps of relief workers, all bustle and business, separated us into two groups. Those with prearranged guardians were herded to the right to board a train for Liverpool. The names on their papers were checked against a list, but it was easy to tell them apart. They wore clothes that fit better and were mended less than those of us hustled to the left. We were put on buses and driven a short distance to Warner’s Holiday Camp in Dovercourt. I was one of the last children to board. I passed Effi, sitting alone. She waved to the little girl behind me and pointed to the empty seat beside her. I quickly sat down in it. “Get up.” Effi commanded. “It’s saved for my friend Gerda.” “I don’t see her name on it,” I retorted. She tried to push me off, but by then the ladies were plunking children down wherever there was space so the bus could leave. Effi kicked the seat back in front of her. “Stop!” the lady scolded her. Effi sat back and turned a teary face toward the window. I leaned back and smiled. With winter barely ended, there were no holiday campers. We spent the afternoon and night in unheated chalets, fully dressed. Aid workers gave out hot water bottles and hugs. All the girls and the littlest boys let themselves be coddled. When the lady got to my cot, she hesitated. She may have thought 86


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I was too old and would refuse to be touched, or perhaps she’d witnessed my being mean to Effi. “I’m sorry,” I whispered as she moved past, but she didn’t seem to hear. Breakfast the next morning was cold toast and marmalade, washed down with weak tea. While we ate, the grownups hung manila tags around our necks with our names on one side and a number on the other. Crumbs still clinging to our faces, we were ushered into the camp’s big social hall, girls on the left and boys on the right. At the front of the hall, a crowd of men and women, some with their own children beside them, checked us over as we filed in. A few smiled at us encouragingly, but most looked grim. A tall skinny man with a growly voice told us to be quiet so we could hear when he called out our names. I didn’t feel like talking anyway. “Bettina Adamowitz,” the man barked. A girl a few years older than me stepped forward and a couple from the crowd came out to claim her. The wife took the girl’s hand and tugged her toward the doorway, but Bettina resisted. “Wilma,” she cried, twisting around. “My sister! You must take her too.” A child even younger than Poldi ran out and into Bettina’s arms. “I’m sorry,” said the husband. “We only have room for one.” The hall, already muted, became as hushed as a midnight snowfall. The only sound was the sisters sobbing. The wife took both their hands and gave her husband a pleading look. He sighed and heaved his shoulders. Then the four of them left together. Others were not so lucky. Most of the younger ones were not separated, but those who looked to be in their teens and older were sometimes split up, including a tall boy whose four younger siblings went with one family while he was sent off with another. I wondered what I would have done if Poldi had been with me and his name was not called together with mine. Perhaps neither of us would have spoken up, each glad to be rid of the other. “Golo Wust.” Although I was listening for my name, the sound startled me. A couple, older than my parents, introduced themselves to me as Norbert and Liza Brown. Mr. Brown shook my hand, but Mrs. Brown had a red ball in one hand and a porcelain doll in the other. “We didn’t know if we’d be getting a boy or a girl,” she explained, handing me the ball. “I told you I would only take boys,” the husband said. “Waste of money to buy that doll.” Mrs. Brown walked to the girls’ side of the room and handed the doll to Effi, who hugged it to her chest and named it Bunny. Not long after, Effi was claimed by a smiling couple with two children of their own, an older boy and a girl about Effi’s age. I went home with the Browns. They took Axel too. 87


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It was a short drive in their Morris Cowley to the Browns’ tenant farm in Marple. The car was old, but since my family didn’t own one, the ride was an unexpected thrill for a small boy. The Browns had no children and I wondered if they didn’t like them. They grew potatoes, beets, and artichokes, which I’d never heard of, let alone tasted. That night, as a treat, Mrs. Brown steamed some for us, but they were usually saved for market. Mostly we ate boiled beets and potatoes, cooked every which way. There were also chickens, so we had fresh eggs, and pigs. I was afraid they’d feed me bacon and ham, but Mrs. Brown said they knew Jews didn’t eat pork. When we did have meat, I worried it wasn’t slaughtered according to kosher law. Axel told me not to be upset, though. “God forgives breaking the rules when we do it to survive,” he said. Axel worked hard in the fields and was always hungry, so he may have been trying to excuse himself. Still, I chose to believe him. I didn’t need any more sins added to the list I’d already accumulated. At night, in the tiny bedroom we shared under the eaves, Axel would tell me folk tales and sing songs that reminded me of my mother. He whittled a pair of rhythm sticks and tried to teach me to play them, but I refused to learn. They made a sound like the steady treadling of my father’s sewing machine before the angry mob smashed it. I preferred the pigs’ random oinks. Once, however, Axel told me a story that was nastier than those Mutti read aloud from the big book of Brothers Grimm fairytales. “I spent summers with my grandparents outside Hamburg, helping their neighbor, Reinhold Hoch, on his farm. One day, his hired hand, Bruno, got wind I wasn’t Aryan. I was wiping down the horses in the barn when Herr Hoch pulled me behind the hay bales, told me to lie on my tummy, and emptied a sack of potatoes over me until I was covered. He promised to explain later but under no circumstances was I to move or make a sound. Soon I heard the voices of Bruno and two other men, officers from the local Gestapo, who demanded Herr Hoch give them the Judenbengel, the damn Jewboy. Herr Hoch said he hadn’t seen me all summer but they shone their flashlight around the barn anyway. They removed the top layer of potatoes and a thin ray penetrated to where I huddled beneath, but they eventually left, threatening that if they ever found me they would send Herr Hoch to a concentration camp too. I went home the next day and never saw my grandparents, or helped on a farm, again.” “Until now,” I said. “Yes,” Axel agreed. “Only here I dig the potatoes. I don’t have to hide underneath them.” I was assigned to help with farm chores too, simple things a boy could do like collecting eggs and feeding the animals. At first I was clumsy, 88


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crushing eggs or missing the bucket when I pitched slops to the pigs. Axel showed me how to handle the chickens gently and we practiced throwing the ball Mrs. Brown had given me to improve my aim. I wondered why Axel acted so patient with me, the opposite of how I behaved with Poldi. Maybe because I’m a lot younger than him, I thought, not just a year behind like Poldi was. Also, I wasn’t a cripple like my brother. My favorite task was sorting crops by size before they went to market. It reminded me of the math games I used to play. I also enjoyed the orderliness of the work, which gave me a sense of control. Mr. Brown said I had a good eye. He was an orderly man too, who kept records of each field’s yield and the money it brought in, and mailed his reports to the farm’s owner, who lived far away. I wondered if he would write to my parents too, like the reports my teachers sent home when I was still allowed to go to school. “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Wust,” Mr. Brown might say, “Golo is turning out to be a fine young man. He is kind to the animals and sorts the potatoes and beets accurately. Golo is especially careful with the artichokes, which bruise easily.” Instead, Mrs. Brown urged me to write Papa and Mutti myself. Sitting at the table as she grated potatoes, I made a picture of our family. I wasn’t sure how short to draw Poldi’s leg so I made them both the same. Perhaps it was my way of saying to my parents that I would no longer treat my brother differently if only they would take me back. I elongated the fingers on my hand so they were touching Poldi’s. Mrs. Brown asked what I wanted to say under my picture and Axel helped me to write in German, “Ich bin gut.” They both smiled and said I was being good! I rode into nearby Manchester with the Browns to post my letter. There I saw several children who’d come with me on the boat, and heard that some of their mothers had followed later and were living in England too, staying with the host families or renting small flats nearby. Weeks passed and still I didn’t hear from my own parents, but I believed that if I worked hard all summer, they’d write and tell the Browns to send me back after the harvest was done. I’d arrive home on a Friday morning and that night Mutti would bless me when she lit the Shabbas candles. The last artichokes went to market and only root crops were left to dig when the Browns began listening to the radio every day, whispering if I entered the room. Axel seemed distracted too. I was collecting eggs the day the postal carrier came up the road. I raced into the house as Mrs. Brown was reading the rubber stamp on the envelope, the same one I’d mailed to Berlin. She made me wait while she got Axel to explain the message to me in German. He lifted me onto his lap. “Communication with enemy countries has ceased,” he translated. The meaning of the words was lost on me. Nowadays, when BBC announcers commemorate the day Britain declared war on 89


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Germany, I understand why the letter was returned unopened. On the 3rd of September, 1939, however, I believed those words meant that my parents did not want me to come home. After that, I saw no point in trying to be good. I continued to do my chores, but I was careless, dropping eggs and scraping the fragile vegetable skins. Winter came and money and food grew scarcer. The Browns sent me to the local school where I did well in mathematics but was deliberately slow to learn English, except for colorful swear words. I craved sweets, and one night I snuck downstairs and stole ten lumps of rationed sugar that Mr. Brown doled out for his tea. Back in bed, I slipped them into my mouth one at a time, sucking quietly so as not to wake Axel. Once a sound sleeper, exhausted by work, he now tossed and turned every night. The next morning, Mr. Brown was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs, leather belt in hand. He made me bend over as he took the strap to my buttocks, one thwack for each lump of sugar. “This is your gratitude?” he spluttered. “We give you a roof over your head and put food in your belly, and you steal from us!” I told him to bugger off; he swatted me ten more times. Mrs. Brown begged him to stop. “Can’t you see Golo misses his dad and mum, Norbert? He’s telling us to be sweeter to him, not vengeful and bitter.” “Maybe if his dad and mum had taken the strap to him when he was younger, Liza, he’d know better than to bite the hand that feeds him now.” He was right that my parents had never beaten me, even when I was particularly mean to Poldi. But Mr. Brown’s punishment was not uppermost in my mind at that moment. I was more upset that Axel didn’t come to my defense. Thinking back, I realize he was preoccupied with the war and worried about his own family, but under the lash I felt betrayed and vowed revenge. My chance came the next day, after school, when I saw Axel’s pocket knife on our dresser. It had an engraved pearl handle and was a treasured bar mitzvah gift from his father. I slipped the knife inside my suitcase and went downstairs, where Mrs. Brown, finger to her lips, gave me a lump of sugar for my tea. I took it the German way, putting the lump behind my teeth and letting the hot tea dissolve the crystals on my tongue as I sipped ever so slowly from the heavy cup. That evening Axel asked if anyone had seen his knife. “I’m so absent-minded lately,” he twisted his hands, “it’s not like me to misplace things.” Mr. Brown nodded and said, “I guess we’re all a bit addled these 90


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days.” Axel scoured our room after dinner and for two weeks I saw him looking for the knife behind and under furniture and farm equipment, in case it had fallen there. He asked me to keep an eagle eye out for it and I promised I would. Not long after, when he turned seventeen and left the Browns to work in a munitions factory, I suspected that the real reason he moved out was that he knew I’d stolen his knife. He figured that since the Browns couldn’t send me away, he’d have to be the one to go. All evidence to the contrary, I still think that was at least part of why he went. A year later, Axel visited us to say he was going off to fight with the British Army, and asked me to write him. I agreed to, but I never did. I didn’t want to wait for another return letter that would never come. Sometimes I pictured Axel being killed in hand-to-hand combat, thinking that if he’d had his knife, he could have stabbed the other soldier first. In self-imposed penance, I worked harder and better at the farm, doing the heavy chores Axel once did like shoveling pig manure and spreading it on the fields, harvesting the crops, and baling hay. “It appears the beating I gave the boy knocked some sense into his head,” Mr. Brown gloated to his wife. “Golo’s just outgrown his sense of mischievousness,” answered Mrs. Brown. “He’s resigned himself to waiting out the war.” She was being too kind calling what I did mischief, but in hindsight, I can see she was right about my being resigned. With Axel off at war, and no end in sight, she seemed to have lost hope too. My being there must have been a constant reminder. I was thirteen when the war ended. There was no talk of a bar mitzvah, of course, but I didn’t need a ceremony to tell me I’d become a man. The refugee agency tried to find the parents of the 10,000 children who, like me, had been part of the Kindertransport. Letters to my home went unanswered; requests to various authorities came back stamped “Unable to locate.” Kind ladies said my family had probably perished in a concentration camp, and I should honor their courage in sending me away in time. But I could not relinquish the thought that they’d escaped somehow and did not want to be found. Papa and Mutti, and certainly Poldi, wanted to be rid of me forever. For the next two years I bounced from one foster home to another. Moving was easy; my possessions still fit into the small suitcase I’d brought with me from Germany. Each time I was told to leave, the family said it was to make room for younger children orphaned by the war. No doubt that was true, but at the time I believed they saw the badness in my blood and 91


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didn’t want it to leak out while I was under their roof. I still think that at some level. Thereafter, I stayed in a hostel, which suited me better. The staff didn’t pretend to be a family, and asked little of us youth other than making our beds and taking a turn in the kitchen. When I came of age at eighteen, I was given the choice of apprenticing to a printer or a farmer. The first option was offered by a well-meaning gentleman who knew Jews were “people of the book.” Words held no interest for me. I went back to farming, where I preferred to work with animals rather than crops. Tending cows was the best. Their big wet eyes looked at me with trust when I milked them. I never let them down. Nowadays, they hook them up to machines. The knife came in handy during those years. When we still had rationing, I’d carve an extra wedge of cheese to sneak back to my bunk. Later, if a farmer kept his cows on a short tether, I’d slice a longer length of rope to cut them a little slack, ten centimeters of freedom. I imagined running into Axel if he, having also lost his family in the war, returned to England. I wondered if I’d give him back his knife, a tacit admission that I’d stolen it, or say I’d found it — under a sack of potatoes? — after he left. Probably I’d have kept it. It did the cows good. I had no desire to marry or have children. Whatever defect caused Poldi to be born that way might be lurking in my genes too. There was no reason to believe I’d be a good father to a damaged child any more than I’d been a decent brother. Over the years, organizations sponsored trips for grownup survivors to visit Germany, but I never went back. Our apartment has probably been razed and the only landmark I would recognize is the Berlin Zoo train station from which I departed. Why would I want to see that place again? I continued to search for my family sporadically, or those who knew them, but it was just as well I failed. If I had found my parents, I would have had to ask them, at last, why they sent me away and I did not expect a reassuring answer. As the truth of the Holocaust emerged, my head told me they wanted to save, not punish, me. They could have kept Poldi for fear he’d suffer too much during the journey or that no family would want to take him in. Yet my heart continued to feel they were relieved to be rid of me, and emotions win in the war against thoughts. Would I have been better off dying together with my family, convinced that I was loved, rather than living all these years in doubt? That is another question to which I will never have an answer. Nearly twenty years ago, after my joints stiffened, the local council found me sheltered housing here at Harvest Home, an almshouse for retired farmhands. I have my own flat with a bed-sitting room, kitchenette, and bath. It’s not spacious, but my needs are modest and my possessions few. The warden enforces the rules about no alcohol or smoking in our rooms, but he’s fair and treats us old men kindly. There’s a garden when I need a bit of fresh air, and I go to the commons room to watch the telly. I’m gobsmacked to see characters today rewarded for acting with cruelty. But 92


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there’s always tea and biscuits, and even if I dream about the white rolls filled with chocolate cream that I was given as a child in Holland, the ordinary sweets make me happy enough. For a while I was still agile enough to beat the others to the dessert tray, and I wasn’t above making them trip over their canes to get there first. Now it’s me who uses a walker and moves slowly. The commons room is also where the residents meet to play cards and checkers. When their minds wander, they reminisce about their childhood mischief and how their mums and dads joked that “boys will be boys.” I do not join in, being cordial but not friendly. Because our flats are small, the men also entertain their families in the commons room on Sundays, when grown children and grandchildren overrun the place. They often invite me to sit with them for a cup of tea, but I decline. Instead, with little else to divert me, I’ve made a hobby of observing how their families work. No doubt this new pastime also helps to drive away old thoughts of my own. Of particular interest to me is the family of Jack, my neighbor. He has a son in America, who writes weekly, and a daughter, who visits on Sundays with her husband and two boys, ten-year-old Luther, a quick-witted imp, and six-year-old Marcus, who’s somewhat slow. A serious child, he dutifully performs his “job” when the family arrives, which is to open Jack’s mailbox and extract the letter from America. This he hands Jack and patiently waits to see pictures of his cousins. Then the boys play a board game. Luther has first pick of which token to use, leaving Marcus to choose among the lesser pieces. Luther invariably cheats, eliciting a sharp parental reprimand to “Play nice!” He does, for a while, until the grownups are engrossed in conversation. Then his lips curl, his fingers inch across the board, and Marcus sighs, resigned to his fate. Old age is all that’s left of my fate. I can no longer manage on my own, so tomorrow the council is moving me to an extra-care shelter where I’ll be assisted with cooking and bathing. It is likely where I will die unless I go to hospital where, like a cow, I’ll be hooked up to a machine. My remaining task is to pack my belongings before the van comes in the morning. I retrieve the old leather suitcase from the floor of my closet. Except for a broken clasp, it is in good shape, less worn by time than me. My joints ache just to lift it and set it upon the bed. I fold my clothes inside and look for a safe place to stow my heart pills so they don’t rattle around. It is then that I remember the hidden pocket within the lining, and when I unzip it, I discover Effi’s rabbit charm. Jack’s family will be here in an hour. I walk into the hallway where his mailbox hangs on the wall between our doors and put the charm under the letter for Marcus to find. I return to my room. Half an hour later, I retrieve the charm and slip it into the box that holds the boys’ board game. Then I sit on the couch in the commons room to await Luther’s cry of discovery. 93


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Remaining Separate from What One Loves Deeply Kimberly Nunes

When he’d cook, he’d run buttery fingers through his thick blonde-graying hair, rolling tufts together as if seasoning a bird for the oven. Lit cigarette balanced on a burner beneath the blower fan, crooning pronouncements— I don’t want to participate in openings anymore, I’m a tough, cranky Norwegian— (Boxed red wine, shots of vodka at the same time from the bottle in the freezer, skipping the glass.) Artists are terribly insecure, of course, needy, that pretty much covers it, jealousy, insecurity—

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And he’d slap his knee and laugh, swing me around the kitchen, and shimmy under his apron while we danced. This time I stepped out onto his terrace despite the cold; we were two figures in a swirling Manhattan snow globe, flakes piling around some gothic spires below. He was standing under the eave and had a joint cupped in one hand, the cigarette in the other, and that was too much.

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Interview with Louis V. Clark (Two Shoes) Louis V. Clark III (Two Shoes) is a poet from the Oneida nation whose most recent collection of poems, “How to be an Indian in the 21st Century”, chronicles his life and experiences. The work spans a broad range of subject matter from schoolyard bullies to workplace racism. Clark sat down with The Madison Review poetry co-editor, Drew Quiriconi, after his talk at the 2017 Wisconsin Book Festival to discuss his most recent work and his experiences as an author. Some excerpts of this interview have been lightly edited for clarity. DQ: Your poems highlight the disparity of Native American representation in media and the actual lives of Native Americans, can you speak about how that disparity has played out in your life? LC: I’ll go to a basketball game and there will be someone on the other side dressed up like an Indian with feathers they’ll be doing the tomahawk chop and seing ‘hey hey hey hey’. I was never Indian, I never did any of those things. I mean, I have an eagle feather but I don’t wear any feathers. I don’t dance around going ‘hey hey hey hey’; I won the twist contest when I was 18 so I can dance. On the other hand, whenever I do dance it rains, but that’s terrible, that was just for humour. How about, when I learned to salsa dance I learned to dance backwards for three hours and I had a drought, how’s that? It’s funny to see, like my tribe has this huge budget, we’re farmers we’re policemen, we’re everything. We don’t wear feathers and loin cloths, we’re people. Everyone is the same basically, we just have different backgrounds. DQ: Can you tell me a little bit about your writing process? LC: I don’t have a writing process I suppose, I think it started as a way to run away from the world, run away from being beaten up by 96


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bullies. I could write things that I felt inside and I could write mean things and tear it up and would be gone, I could write sad things and tear it up and it would be gone. I just wrote and it was just a release for me, it was just something I did, something I felt called to do and it took the weight off my chest of being who I was or being under the circumstances I had to endure. DQ: The mascot debate, as a clash in the public dialogue concerning Native American representation, is something that you’ve decided to taken on as an issue. What do you see as the gap in either empathy or understanding in people who still support the use of what some people would consider discriminatory mascots? LC: Well it’s sad right now because it seems our country is going through something that says ‘this is what we have and we’re going to keep it,’ we’re not going to allow ourselves be educated and open up our eyes and see what we’ve been doing to other people. If something hurts­—well let me say this, a gentleman from Houston Astros who I was supporting, I wanted the Astros to win because they came from the same division that my Cubbies were in. But when he did that thing against the Asian pitcher, my feelings were that he should have been suspended immediately by his team and [the team should have] said ‘we’re not going to put up with this type of activity’, instead they’re going to suspend him next year. They could have suspended him for one game to make a statement that that type of thing will not be tolerated, but instead they said they might make some money, and so they let it slide. And you can’t, if you see something wrong you have to fix it. DQ: One of the lines I really enjoyed in the book was ‘all stories are partly truth and partly fiction,’ can you elaborate on that idea? LC: I think if you’re going with a good story, every once in awhile if the audience is really getting into it, sometimes you let it flow just to a point of absurdity, but it’s often at the point of absurdity where real truths are exposed to the public. So if it’s a good story I will 97


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embellish, there are certain poems in [the book] that I didn’t know we’re going to be published so when I was editing I took some stuff out because it was a little raw. Some things just get embellished. DQ: You talk about resilience as an Oneida trait in your poems, do you think that is something that is inherent to the culture or do you think that is something Native Americans have had to take on due to marginalization in mainstream culture? LC: I really don’t know. I know my mother’s people were very strong people, very steadfast. I know that my father’s people, the Polish people, were too. They came over here. The only difference was that in my father’s family if you got something you tried to hold on to it, in my mother’s family if you had something, you shared it right away. That was always a difference growing up. My dad would say if I got something nice, ‘don’t let the other people play with this’ while my mother would say ‘you are special, you got a toy like that, you let the other people play with it’. So that was the only difference I guess. DQ: Is that culture of sharing something you see prevalent throughout many different Native American groups? LC: As far as I know, yes. I was walking on the reservation one day and this gentleman came walking by with this great Indian t-shirt on, and I said ‘hey man, I really like your t-shirt’ and he pulled it off and gave it to me. I don’t know if I could have done that. It was wonderful. DQ: You write in the book that you were ‘rendered a eunuch by society;’ do you see any specific forces in society primarily contributing to that feeling of impotence? LC: Yes because there were many times that there were chances in my working life and I could have done more, a lot more, but I was rendered useless because their attitude towards me. I couldn’t fulfill what I hoped to fulfill in my life. Maybe my destiny was being fulfilled 98


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in that way, but at the time I didn’t feel I was being fully utilized for everything that I could have given to my employers. DQ: Do you ever feel like Native Americans are dehumanized through idolization? LC: Don’t put us up on a pedestal, let us stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, share our lives and learn from me what I can give you and let me learn from you what you can give me.

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Contributors Francis Alix has been published in several journals including Hawai’i Pacific Review and Poet Lore. He is a former reviewer for the now defunct publication, The Small Press Review. Beverly Burch ’s work has appeared in New England Review, Willow Springs, Salamander, Tinderbox, Mudlark, Southern Humanities Review, and Poetry Northwest. Her first poetry collection, Sweet to Burn, won the Gival Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. Her second poetry collection, How A Mirage Works, was a finalist for the Audre Lorde Award. She is a psychotherapist in Berkeley. Roger Camp is the author of three photography books including the award winning Butterflies in Flight,Thames & Hudson, 2002 and Heat, Charta, Milano, 2008. His work has appeared in over 100 magazines including The New York Quarterly, New England Review and Witness. Ann S. Epstein writes novels, short stories, and creative nonfiction. Her novels include On the Shore (Vine Leaves Press, 2017), A Brain. A Heart. The Nerve. (Alternative Book Press, 2018, in press), and Tazia and Gemma (2018, in press). Her stories appear in Sewanee Review (where she won the Walter Sullivan Prize for Rising Talent), PRISM International, Ascent, The Long Story, Saranac Review, Passages North, Red Rock Review, William and Mary Review, Tahoma Literary Review, The Copperfield Review, The Normal School, Carbon Culture Review, Earth’s Daughters, The Offbeat, theNewerYork, Emrys Journal, and Clark Street Review. In addition to writing, she has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology and M.F.A. in textiles. Her stories often have historical settings that mix fact and fiction, and she is gratified to have forgotten what is and is not real by the time a work is finished. Her nonfiction explores the people, places, and events that shape us, especially the residue left by family members and friends. Her website is: www.asewovenwords. com. 100


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Alice Hatcher’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, Notre Dame Review, Lascaux Review, Fourth Genre, Chautauqua and Gargoyle, among other journals. Her novel The Wonder That Was Ours won Dzanc Books’ 2017 Prize for Fiction and will be published in Fall of 2018. Hatcher has two friends who, like her characters, actually attended gym summer school in 1986. Her work can be viewed at www.alice-hatcher.com. Cindy King ’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, North American Review, African American Review, American Literary Review, jubilat,The Louisville Review, Sou’wester, Blackbird, Cortland Review, River Styx, TriQuarterly, The Collagist, Cimarron Review, Black Warrior, The Cincinnati Review, Barrow Street, The Pinch and elsewhere. She has received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Agha Shahid Ali scholarship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Currently she lives in Utah, where she is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Dixie State University and editor of Route 7 Review and The Southern Quill. Kimberly Kruge is the author of High-Land Sub-Tropic, which won the 2017 Center for Book Arts Chapbook Prize. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Denver Quarterly, Witness, The Iowa Review, Copper Nickel, and many other publications. She is the recipient of a residency fellowship at the Millay Colony for the Arts and the founder of Comala Haven, a retreat and workshop for women writers. She lives and works in Guadalajara, Mexico. Kimberly Nunes, a native of Northern California, holds a bachelor’s in French and three master’s degrees that include an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Through poetry and prose she examines nature and landscape, personhood, and “all these spirits that inhabit our spaces”. Some of her poems have been published in The Alembic, Caveat Lector, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Fictionique, Unbroken Journal, Whistling Shade, and WomenArts Quarterly. Aza Pace’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern 101


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Review, Moon City Review, Common Ground Review, and American Chordata, among others. She is the winner of a 2017 Inprint Donald Barthelme Prize in Poetry, and The Southern Review nominated her poem “Twelve Pieces of a Concubine” for a Pushcart Prize. Alain Douglas Park is a Chicago-based fiction writer and visual artist. He holds an MFA in print media from Cranbrook Academy of Art and an MFA in fiction from Warren Wilson College, where he was recently the Joan Beebe Fellow teaching fiction. His work has been published in the Beloit Fiction Journal, Fugue, Folio, Zone 3, and the American Literary Journal among others. You can find his writing and art at: alaindouglaspark.tumblr.com. Ben Spies is a writer and policy wonk living in Chicago. If you Google his name, you will find a champion motorcycle racer and the host of a cable TV hunting show. He is neither, but his work has appeared in Curbside Splendor, Black Denim Lit, and just about every local reading series that serves beer. Steven Wineman is the author of a novel, The Therapy Journal (Golden Antelope Press, 2017), and two books of nonfiction, PowerUnder: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change (www.traumaandnonviolence.com, 2003) and The Politics of Human Services (South End Press, 1984). His essays and fiction have appeared widely in literary magazines. Steve retired in 2014 after working in community mental health for 35 years.

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Profile for The Madison Review

The Madison Review Fall 2017  

Enjoy our selection of poetry, prose, and art! Volume 40, no. 1

The Madison Review Fall 2017  

Enjoy our selection of poetry, prose, and art! Volume 40, no. 1